The 2020 elections and their aftermath have left few Americans pleased. A recent poll found that 70 percent of Republicans believe the presidential election was stolen, while Democrats are seeing significant infighting between the moderate and liberal wings in light of a “blue wave” that didn’t happen.
The post-election chaos will take time to settle down, but already three brand busts and two brand winners have clearly been established.
Joe Biden: The third time was the charm for the former Vice President. He first ran for the White House 32 years ago, then again 12 years ago. This time, while the results won’t be official until President Donald Trump’s lawsuits end and the formal Electoral College process is completed, he’s finally won the most powerful political job in the world with the greatest number of votes in American history.
Whether he wants the job with a Congress that’s likely to be divided is anyone’s guess; the same is true of the impact of his policies, especially given Biden’s advanced age and therefore possibly a short window to make his mark. But those are questions for another day. From a brand perspective, Joe Biden’s star has never been higher with voters, media and celebrity leaders who wanted Trump out of power and foreign leaders who prefer Biden over Trump.
The Republican Party: In a year that keeps on getting stranger, the GOP is set to lose the White House … but it demolished the polls by nearly winning the presidency, likely keeping the Senate—including races in Maine, South Carolina and Texas where Republicans won handily despite poor pre-election polling—making gains in the House of Representatives and locking in power in state legislatures.
Trump may not be popular, but the GOP clearly did a good job of appealing to voters. Their brand is strong and may be set for a good midterm election in 2022. Voters tend to be more conservative in midterms and the House of Representatives is unexpectedly within striking distance thanks to GOP wins this year, though the party will be defending a lot of Senate seats.
What Republicans do with their surprise victories is an open question. How will it structure congressional districts? Will the party revert back to its Obama-era fiscal conservatism? How will it work with Biden and the Democratic Party-controlled House?
Like with Biden, those policy questions are beyond the scope of this piece. From a brand perspective, the GOP is as strong as ever with its key target market: voters.
The Trumpism personality strangely turned the GOP into winners, but the president himself into getting fired by voters and opposed by even some of his allies when he claimed fraud was the reason he lost. A lot of “Trumpism” will survive in his populist policies and predilections, the support he has cultivated, and the positive and negative impacts of his policies. But the Trump personality—the bluster, the self-focused personality and the desire for conflict—lost with voters who backed the GOP but not the party’s leader.
Our political system’s brand has been damaged significantly by matters which took place before, during and after the election. Trump has been a major cause of this: a majority of Republicans believe his fraud claims even as those claims are thrown out of court, clarified by election officials, opposed by members of his own party and administration and fact-checked extensively. And it was Republicans who helped create pre-election chaos in Pennsylvania and other states that played out after November 3.
However, Trump is just part of the problem. Here are some other major players in our political system’s brand value reduction:
- The pandemic threw chaos into an already-tense election year. Reasonable concerns about mail-in voting became partisan weapons, ballot drop-off points became court battles, a record number of pre-Election Day ballots were cast and states were scrambling to adjust to both the pandemic and court battles related to ballot access and ballot security.
- The polling industry botched things. Plain and simple. Some of this was certainly because of the “shy”—read: dishonest—Trump voters who either distrust pollsters or are afraid to publicly admit they support the president. But those voters weren’t responsible for the cross-industry mistakes in polls like the ABC/Washington Post poll, which showed Biden up by 17 points. It’s not unreasonable to question whether the industry is simply anti-Trump. The polling industry is likely to see a brand value reduction among the general public and among the major political parties because the Democratic Party raised tens of millions of dollars more than anticipated due to how it polled … and then wasted tens of millions of dollars losing Senate seats in Maine, South Carolina and elsewhere because the polls made the party overconfident. Conversely, the GOP had to rely on big donors late in October because the polls made normal fundraising difficult. Who, after all, wants to give money to a party that’s going to get shellacked?
- Distrust in the media is at a peak, especially among conservatives, but the industry’s left-of-center bias peaked as Election Day got closer. Social media platforms and major news outlets picked and chose what was acceptable for the public to see, such as Twitter allowing Iran’s leader to threaten Israel though it suspended the U.S. border chief’s account after he tweeted that a wall stops criminals; Church-goers and anti-lockdown protesters being vilified by the press because of the pandemic while protesters and rioters were supported; a Chinese COVID-19 propagandist being given more editorial freedom in the New York Times than a U.S. Senator; and silencing the New York Post’s questionable Hunter Biden story for reasons of validity while major outlets like the New York Times and The Atlantic reported on Trump’s tax returns and his alleged insults against dead servicemembers using unnamed and anonymous sources, stories that were given free rein on social media platforms.
The Democratic Party’s left-wing is the last loser on this list. It entered the summer strong with support for Black Lives Matter at an all-time high, a projected left swing from Biden on a host of issues after he was elected and the likelihood of both the House and the Senate pushing its policies in legislation.
Now, the brand of the left wing of the Democratic Party is in tatters because voters rejected it. For a few examples of anecdotes and data:
- Public support for Black Lives Matter was down significantly even before Election Day.
- Moderate Democrats in the House are emboldened to oust Nancy Pelosi and stand up to the party’s left flank.
- Initial exit polls indicate that Trump improved his standing with every demographic group except for white men. He won the most minority votes of any Republican in 60 years and he used Hispanic concerns about socialism into victories in Florida and elsewhere. He also doubled his support among voters who identify as LGBT. This means that voters who became more “woke” in 2020 were white men, the very people the far-left regularly says holds women and minorities back. Efforts like Black Lives Matter and the 1619 project, which portray America as inherently racist and Trump personally as a racist, didn’t work with minority voters or the general voting public.
America’s brand is resilient but weak
It’s easy to say that America is at a tipping point when a 24-hour news cycle, social media and historical ignorance make 2020 seem like the worst year ever. But we’ve pulled back from such points before, such as when the nation was being created. We did it during the Great Depression and during the Civil Rights Era and the Vietnam War era. Our issue is that we’re less able to relate to each other about politics, morality and personal philosophies even as politics becomes increasingly part of our daily lives through social media, the news media, an abrasive and self-centered president and pervasive cancel culture.
The question isn’t whether America’s brand is weak. It is. The question is, what can we do to improve our brand. I recently proposed that we start with charity to our neighbors—creating local proofs of concept that, yes, we can come through the other side of our brand crisis strong and united. The next step is to focus on where we can have an impact, following through on localized brand trust.
The sooner we recognize that each of us has responsibility for America’s brand, the better off our nation will be. Otherwise, we’ll see a continued destruction of trust in our system, our leaders and each other.
Dustin Siggins is CEO of the publicity firm Proven Media Solutions and a business columnist. He was previously Director of Communications for a national trade association.