Superior Use of Science and Technology Won the 2016 Election and the 2020 Down Ballot Elections

Julie Hotard
12 min readOct 14, 2017

I am updating this article in November 2020, to note that, although Joe Biden won the 2020 presidential election, Democrats lost seats in Congress rather than gaining them. That’s because Dems have not solved any of the problems I wrote this article about. So attention should be paid to these issues — plus to voter roll purging, closure of thousands of polls in minority areas, and other kinds of corruption issues that affect voting. I wrote about some of those issues here.

In 2020, Democrats are making wild guesses at what caused Congressional election losses. Because Dems are science deniers on the issues of messaging research and election outcome research. The centrists’ wild guess is that the candidates were too far Left & that the “Defund the police” slogan used by Black Lives Matter activists affected Dem candidates negatively. The progressives’ wild guess is that candidates weren’t progressive enough.

The two camps agree on one thing only. They agree to be science deniers about why so many Dems lost Congressional elections — not to do any competent research to find out why, but only to make wild guesses about the reasons.

Getting back to the 2016 election, many explanations have been tossed around for why Trump won it. Many are probably correct, because many factors were involved. There is one important factor that isn’t written about much — that the side using superior science and technology — the GOP — won. The science and technology were used to deliver propaganda that bashed Hillary Clinton as if she were extremely corrupt, to keep likely Democratic voters away from the polls at election time.

In 2020 Congressional Democrats were bashed, painted as “socialist” and in favor of the very unpopular position of defunding the police, even though these things were not true. Apparently, these lies didn’t stick to Joe Biden, maybe because he’s been in politics for decades and people felt they knew him. But the charges probably did stick to Congressional candidates — though we ought to do research to find out for sure whether they did — and to find out other reasons why voters didn’t vote for the Democratic Congressional candidates who lost.

Republicans are more skilled at political marketing than Democrats. Democrats are science believers when it comes to global climate change. But we’re back in the Dark Ages when it comes to the science of marketing.

We’re science deniers in that area. Frank Luntz has been doing sophisticated marketing research for the Republican party for decades. He tests out different phrasing of messages, to find the right wording so that voters will respond positively. His book, Words That Work, describes his research.

Have Democrats caught up with this, even after decades? No. Democrats don’t do much research on messaging. Democrats do superficial research to find out what voters think they want. The problem is, voters often don’t know what they want. They often don’t know what kind of message about Democrats will appeal to them until you present them with that message. Dems don’t do much research on how voters respond to different phrases or ways of communicating Democratic vision and policies.

Republicans like Frank Luntz use focus groups to find the best way to frame the messages the GOP knows they want to deliver about what the GOP stands for. Democrats, by contrast, use focus groups to ask low information voters what Dems ought to stand for, and then go with whatever gibberish they get in response.

Also, Dems seem to limit their focus groups and survey questions in such a way that they always get the same answer: Focus campaigns on kitchen table issues. Since Democrats don’t do much messaging, they don’t tell voters that democracy is in danger. And the GOP certainly won’t tell voters that. So voters don’t know. If they knew it what the current dangers are, they might want Dem campaigns to focus on saving our democracy — including our voting rights, our election system, our public health, our Post Office etc.

The closest Democrats come to doing that is when they follow the advice of George Lakoff, which they didn’t do in 2016. However, Lakoff is an academic — a cognitive linguist. He doesn’t conduct political focus groups like Luntz does. His theories — and ideas from others also — need to be tested in focus groups, to see what messages voters respond to most favorably . That’s how science works. Theories must be tested.

Still, Lakoff is perhaps the best Democrats have, for a person who specializes in framing. Did Hillary Clinton’s campaign use his work? No. The Democratic National Committee didn’t use Lakoff’s method during the campaign either.

There are other people who study or write about framing from a progressive perspective. One is Anat Shenker-Osorio. I like some of her work, although I have a concern that she may have an overly positive bias. Sometimes “negative” messages do work, and we shouldn’t stop ourselves from testing them to see if they do.

Shenker-Osorio wrote an excellent book on framing of messages about the economy Don’t Buy It: The Trouble with Talking Nonsense about the Economy.

Another one is Stan Greenberg. Here’s a book in which he discusses what he thinks political research and polling reveal about our nation, America Ascendant: A Revolutionary Nation’s Path to Addressing Its Deepest Problems and Leading the 21st Century.

Another is pollster Rachel Bitecofer who has documented that negative partisanship — that is, voting against someone, rather than for someone, can sometimes be a powerful motivator for voters. Here is her book The Unprecedented 2016 Presidential Election.

Is the Democratic party using such people, so that they can do large political marketing research studies? No. The party mostly leaves such people in the shadows, ignoring them.

Marketing research of this nature is still horse and buggy level technology, compared to mathematically advanced data analysis that uses social media. Yet most Democrats haven’t even caught up with basic marketing research yet. Obama did use technology and social media briefly, as an article I’ll cite later on shows. But most other Democrats didn’t carry on this practice after Obama.

For example, Facebook, Twitter and Google offered to embed employees in both the Trump campaign and the Clinton campaign during the runup to the 2016 election. Trump’s campaign said yes. Clinton’s campaign said No.

Why don’t Democrats make extensive and effective use of technology for political marketing? Many Democrats think that you don’t need to market the truth — that only untrue statements need to be sold, in order for people to believe them. Many Democratic pundits and comedians refer to people who believe false political stories as “stupid” — as though only stupid people are vulnerable to propaganda. If only that were so. Anyone can be vulnerable.

People telling the truth on TV don’t have a halo appearing over their heads, to let the viewers know. People speaking lies don’t suddenly have devil’s horns sprouting out of their heads. Media consumers often don’t know what the truth is. There is an old adage that has been around for hundreds of years that says:

“A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.”

That’s the reality about whether truth has to be sold as intensively as lies do.

Once Democrats start doing focus group research on messaging, political operatives need to also go beyond this. The current cutting edge of science and technology in the field of elections is in the use of computers to analyze social media to understand voter preferences.

Such analyses are used to discover the kinds of messages to which voters respond. Then campaigns can know how to effectively market their candidates to voters, using social media. It’s what Cambridge Analytica did for Donald Trump’s campaign. Recent information points to Russia having also done this.

Here’s a book documenting how this was done.

Devil’s Bargain: Steve Bannon, Donald Trump, and the Storming of the Presidency, by Joshua Green, describes how Steve Bannon, financed by the Mercer family, helped to elect Donald Trump.

Here’s an article that came out in 2019 that also discusses how surreptitiously Cambridge Analytica acted — by influencing many organizations without the influence being abled to be traced back to Cambridge Analytica. Cambridge Analytica took full advantage of the naivete of politicians and mainstream media.

Since I originally wrote this article, another book was written about Trump’s social media campaign, by the Cambridge Analytica whistle blower. It’s called Mindf*ck: Cambridge Analytica and the Plot to Break America

The book Devil’s Bargain states that the Mercers bankrolled four different interlocking organizations for the purpose of discrediting Hillary Clinton and marketing Republican presidential candidates.

One of the four was Breitbart News, a media outlet that basically preaches to the Republican choir. Some Democratic media outlets preach to the choir too. However, Bannon, and Andrew Breitbart before him, recognized the power of dramatic narratives with heroes and villains. Breitbart News uses dramatic narratives of this kind and keeps them going continuously over time. So they preach to the choir far more effectively.

Humans love stories. When we watch a film or a TV show, or listen to a song, we are usually responding to a story. Some people believe that when we turn on the news, we are doing something very different. We’re not.

Another way that Breitbart is more effective than most progressive publications is that it’s consistent in its viewpoint. However, there are no large purely Left Wing or progressive media organizations. There are ones that people generally think of as Left Wing, but they’re not. They may contain more Left Wing than Right Wing views, but they cover both sides. Major newspapers do this. Even MSNBC is becoming more inclusive of Right Wing views, as the article below describes.

As much as the Right Wing may complain about Left Wing media bias, it actually doesn’t exist to a significant degree in any large media outlet. Right Wing media have convinced their consumers that media overall have a Left Wing bias. However, that’s not true. It’s a testament to the power of Right Wing propaganda, that so many people can be persuaded to believe something so obviously untrue.

In contrast to people on the Left, Right Wing leaning people can tune into Right Wing TV or radio, or read Internet publications, staying constantly within their own bubble and safe space. They can receive an uninterrupted whole cloth Right Wing world view, with interlocking dramatic narratives that continue over time.

Those on the Left, by contrast, are stuck with individual fragments of a Left Wing world view, frequently interrupted by coverage of the other side’s point of view, which may be lies. The Republican whole cloth view seems like it would be easier to take in, process and follow. However, that’s an empirical question — one that could need to be answered by research.

The second of the four interlocking organizations led by Bannon and financed by the Mercers, was the Government Accountability Institute. Legally, it is a 501(c)(3) research organization that is considered to be nonpartisan. This organization was used to research information that might discredit the Clintons and to spread it to nonpartisan media outlets in ways that those outlets would accept and even welcome.

The Hillary Clinton hit job book Clinton Cash: The Untold Story of How and Why Foreign Governments and Businesses Helped Make Bill and Hillary Rich, was produced through this organization. A third organization, a film company, produced the movie version of the book.

The fourth and last of the interlocking organizations covered in Joshua Green’s book, is a data analytics company, used for the purpose of researching how to influence elections and voters’ opinions, using propaganda. This organization advises governments and militaries on ways to influence voters. This is an international organization, the American affiliate of which is Cambridge Analytica.

Here is an article quoting Trump’s digital director as saying that the election was won on Facebook, using highly targeted ads.

A TED Talk by techno-sociologist Zeynep Tufekci contains further information about how Donald Trump’s social media manager used Facebook to get likely Hillary voters to stay home from the polls in the 2016 election. The relevant part is from around 11:50 minutes to around 13:00 minutes on the video or the transcript.

Donald Trump and his campaign organization seemed to be primitive, stumbling through the campaign chaotically. Yet here were these highly sophisticated organizations shoring them up in the background, unseen by voters.

Democrats don’t need to lie, like Right Wing media and social media do. In fact, we ought to lead the way in spreading truth and in fighting fake news and lies in media.

The public needs to pressure mainstream media, Right Wing media, and social media, to do what is necessary to stop the spread of fake news lies. While the Democratic party has much work to do, the public also needs to pitch in and do our part. The party can research effective messaging and can spread the truth. But perhaps it is the public that can make the most difference in fighting fake news, in order to stop the spread of propaganda.

However, the Democratic party does need to market the truth just as aggressively as Republicans market fake news and lies. We also need to spread the word far and wide that Right Wingers are constantly targeting likely Democratic voters with propaganda that is designed to persuade us to stay home from the polls on election day. Fighting back against this propaganda is is the most important way of resisting the Right Wing agenda. We must never let Republican propagandists influence us this way again.

Good grassroots organizing and Get out the Vote efforts go a long way. The elections held on November 7, 2017, which many Democrats won, proved this. The election of Doug Jones to the Senate representing Alabama, in December 2017, proved this yet again. Jones and Alabama Democrats pushed hard to get out the vote.

Nine years before these 2017 elections, Obama’s team had built an amazing grassroots army to get out the vote for his first presidential campaign. He gave the contacts to the Democratic party, and they were discarded. That was a large mistake, as the DNC threw away that information. Democrats need to rebuild that network, so that their grassroots organizing in all states can be improved.

Why are so many Democrats still in the Dark Ages, in the areas of science and technology? I have already discussed the mistaken belief that the truth doesn’t need to be marketed. Some Democrats also have some discomfort with using technology and social media data analysis. Maybe Democrats need to start attending personal growth workshops to work through their hang ups about technology.

I also think some Democrats need to find ways to blast through their hang ups about being comfortable using power politics.

In fact, Democrats could use an outrage machine, in order to stand up for progressive media and politicians. Republicans have an outrage machine. Media and government officials bow to it, giving Republicans their way, leaving Democrats at a disadvantage.

Many Democrats are fair to a fault, literally. We may hesitate to firmly state and defend our values, for fear of offending others with different views. Some Democrats bend over backwards to be fair to opponents and to compromise.

This approach works if the opponent acts this way too. However, if the opponent is a “Give ’em and inch, they take a mile” sort, then Democrats are in trouble. This issue is confusing to some people, because the Republican party has changed in recent decades and become more partisan, uncompromising and corrupt. The current Democratic strategies may have worked in the past, but need to be updated.

The time is ripe for Democrats to enter into the world of science, technology and power. It may be a challenge we’ll have to rise to, but we’ll be glad we did.