Like most people outside of the USA, and most of the pundits and commentators there, I was surprised by the Trump victory. To me he seemed to be doing everything wrong. He didn’t give his opponents the courtesy of listening, he bullied them, he lied (again and again). He spoke very simplistically. He bragged about his wealth and he was divisive.
Not a great formula for winning an election.
But then I put myself in a different position, I put myself in the position of the demographic he was talking to: the white, blue collar middle aged American. And do you know what? He hits all of the Social Influencing factors. Either by accident or design, he was right on the money.
Let me explain. Prof Robert Cialdini postulates there are 6 key Social Influencing Principles.
After twelve years as a Hostage and Crisis Negotiator, I would argue there is a seventh – Future, which i used very effectively on a number of occasions, and I remember the seven by the acronym FACTORS
Make America Great Again (MAGA). What a fantastic vision of the Future he painted, more employment, higher wages, less immigration, tighter borders, more exports, less imports, a dominant military projecting the USA’s (not Europe’s) force around the globe. A future they could buy into, because they wanted to. They believe it is their right to be the world superpower, and according to Trump he will deliver it.
What greater Authority did he need than his own presence, the living embodiment of the American dream? A “billionaire” who has so much money he can fund his own campaign, and not be beholden to anybody. He projected so much authority that the believers didn’t stop to question how he was going to fulfil all of is crazy promises. Again, they wanted to believe.
He was a master at Commitment and Consistency leading the calls of “Build a wall” “Lock her up”, “drain the swamp” consistently hammering home the message. Allied with the promise or commitment that he would never lie to them (while lying through his teeth)! All the time promising to MAGA.
He was able to Ingratiate himself to his target audience. He didn’t care what the intelligentsia, the pundits, opponents or the press thought…they were not the mass of people who were going to win him the election. They Trusted and liked him because he said things they wanted to hear. The things they themselves were saying in the bars and sitting rooms. This gave him a Teflon quality, allowing him to brush off all of the criticisms others threw at him, such as Tax dodging/Draft Dodging/Misogyny/Racism/Stupidity/Vacuousness/Bullying/Unpreparedness and being a lot less successful than he claimed.
His rallies were the ideal show of Social Proof. Huge crowds of Other white rust belt Americans coming to pay homage to their messiah. The chanting and bullying tactics invoking chilling flashbacks to Hitler’s rallies to most, but to his target audience, absolute proof that it was ok to vote Trump.
Reciprocity is a lot more difficult to get your head round. What did he give away? From their perspective, he gave himself for them. A little like (forgive the blasphemy) Christians believe Jesus died for them. Well Trump ran for President for them, not for his egotistical megalomaniac self, but for the (white) American people.
His other key message was Scarcity, to misquote the well-worn phrase “If not me then who, if not now then when?” He hammered home that he was their chance in a lifetime to change things for the better. From an unbiased standpoint, it was never backed up with policies, or facts, but again they wanted to believe.
So a brilliantly focused campaign, with a lot of good luck thrown into the mix, such as the FBI’s intervention. Whoever his strategist was kept him focused on that key message to the core electorate, which saw him get elected. We have already begun to see some policy shifts, because he no longer needs to appeal to the same people (as far as I know the result can’t be undone). He now has to widen his appeal, or he will preside over a very Ununited States of America. It will be fascinating to see how he does it.
Social Influencing Factors are a key part of my training course on Effective Communication,
based on 12 years as a Negotiator dealing with over 400 crises worldwide.