Just how unusual was the 2016 presidential race from a communications perspective?
It was definitely unusual, perhaps unprecedented. Campaigns are still largely decided on television. Typically, resources are spent on buying ad space. Clinton looked like a much more traditional candidate, making large TV buys throughout the campaign, while Trump didn’t (nor did he really have to in any significant way). Trump may have even exceeded Clinton in raw minutes on air.
The tone and delivery of messaging certainly diverged from campaign orthodoxy in many ways.
What are the key lessons learned? Did 2016 have any implications for running campaigns in the future?
It is true that Trump broke a lot of rules that most consultants would have considered sacred. There was one hard and fast rule, however, that remained unbroken: Candidates have to persuade voters to vote for them. Mediums come and go, it will always be about persuading and motivating voters. Trump was able to steer a lot of the conversation.
Trump was unique in many ways that allowed him to break and bend some the rules. It’s not totally out of the question that other candidates would be able to take the same approach, but there are still guidelines that (most) candidates have to follow.
Is the there a crisis in the political consulting world?
It’s a fair question. This is just a singular result. It’s still valuable to have expertise. The best campaign doesn’t always win, but professionalism and expertise are advantages.
It is important, however, to note that the political consulting field needs to continue to innovate, learn and advance.
Is polling broken? What happened?
Pollsters came out of this with some tarnish. There are a number of theories as to what happened, but it was likely a confluence of factors including increased turnout of low propensity voters in certain key areas, some shyness with pollsters and low response rates. Issues notwithstanding, polling is still an important tool. There is room innovation with multi-modal surveys, better integration of qualitative research and developing new ways to harness found data.