The 2016 Election’s Top 5 FAQs from Europe

October 26, 2016


As a self-described political junkie and active participant in every U.S. presidential campaign since 1988, I feel its fair to claim there simply hasn’t been a contest – ever – quite like the Election of 2016.

During mid-October, I had the opportunity to travel and talk with many of my FleishmanHillard colleagues and clients in the U.S. and Europe about the upcoming U.S. presidential election. Be it in small groups or large presentations (even one debate) in St. Louis, London, Amsterdam and Brussels, I was awed by the level of scrutiny, focus on, and knowledge of, even the littlest of nuances surrounding the presidential campaign.

Clients and fellow colleagues confessed to checking the “538” and “RCP” polling averages not on a daily basis, but an hourly basis! I met clients who said they plan to be in the U.S. in early November to see first hand what the final days of this historic campaign are like.

I was very surprised that the following five questions were asked in every session I attended. Those warily watching our quadrennial bid for the White House wanted to know:

What’s happened to American elections? Why so mean and callous this time around?

This is the number one question. U.S. presidential elections are rough and tumble, and many cite the Election of 1828 between Andrew Jackson and John Adams as the most rancorous. But in the 2016 race, both candidates have high unfavorable ratings and this hits a nerve with Republicans and Democrats that has to date been largely untouched. Trump has also injected a big dose of the reality show/entertainment antics into the race and this has whipped up crowds and media attention.

Why does there appear to be such a disparity between Hillary Clinton’s public and private persona? Why is she so disliked?

Admittedly, I have known Hillary for over 25 years and worked for her for thirteen years. I am always amazed at the difference between the person I know and the candidate portrayed. Being in the public eye for more than 30 years, during an intense period of change in the U.S., has not made it easy to remain consistently popular. It’s always interesting to see the correlation between her low favorable ratings when she is running and her high ratings when she assumes office. Also, being a policy wonk who loves details, doesn’t necessarily play well in a world of pithy sound bites. In the final two weeks ahead, I think you will see a much more liberated and relaxed candidate.

Will the next President be able to govern effectively?

I think time will tell. And much depends on the tone and tenor of the last two weeks of the election. The magnanimity of the winner, the closeness of the results, and whether or not one party makes significant gains in both houses of Congress will affect the climate in Washington, D.C.

Will Michelle Obama ever run for public office?

I was intrigued at the number of people who had seen the First Lady’s speech in New Hampshire criticizing, but not ever naming, Donald Trump. Multiple people asked if she would be a future candidate for public office. President Obama has noted that there are three certainties in life – death, taxes, and his wife not running for office. It is interesting to see the role she has carved out in the last six months.

Who will win? Will it be close?

Voters – especially those in battleground states – are ready for this election to be over. Early voting is underway and November 8 will be here before we know it. My hope is we know the winner that evening, there is a gracious concession and the new President can begin a peaceful transition.