Strange new world: The surprise elections of Donald Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu
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Millions of Americans, and countless followers around the globe, woke up Nov. 9 to the surprising — and in some eyes shocking — news that the newly elected president was NOT Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonHillicon Valley: Bolton tells Russians 2016 meddling had little effect | Facebook eyes major cyber firm | Saudi site gets hacked | Softbank in spotlight over Saudi money | YouTube fights EU 'meme ban' proposal Dems lower expectations for 'blue wave' Election Countdown: Takeaways from heated Florida governor's debate | DNC chief pushes back on 'blue wave' talk | Manchin faces progressive backlash | Trump heads to Houston rally | Obama in Las Vegas | Signs of huge midterm turnout MORE. Pundits and pollsters, from left to right, had predicted a cake walk for Clinton; a Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump to fundraise for 3 Republicans running for open seats: report Trump to nominate former Monsanto exec to top Interior position White House aides hadn’t heard of Trump's new tax cut: report MORE victory was thought to be mathematically impossible.

For those who watched a similar scenario play out for Benjamin Netanyahu in 2015, this was simply a case of déjà vu. 


I have been lucky enough to manage successful political campaigns now on three different continents, and have been witness to a seismic change in how one goes about understanding the electorate. We used to think it was as much science as art. Test wording. Test faces. Test themes and messages. Test demographics. Test everything! It was exactly this sort of testing that has allowed international political consultants to adapt their strategies in local, regional and of course national elections.

Well, the world was reminded once again that the emotional “art” of political campaigns is even stronger than once thought.

Working in Israel prepared us for this trend long ago; having been involved in three of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s campaigns, this was something that has been taken on board, and indeed successfully implemented. The issues in Israel have always been big, real issues of life or death, and the subsequent emotions have followed in kind. The recent election in the U.S., despite the obvious differences in political systems, suddenly started to look like a real emotional battle of world views, and more “blue and white” than “red and blue” in its tone and content than ever before.

Consider some of these facts:

  • Netanyahu is portrayed as a mega-conservative and despised by liberals abroad, yet he is a hero to his base at home.
  • He perceives and portrays his domestic media as a hostile entity (and of course the media happily return the favor).
  • He has warned against the country being ruled by a weak left, buttressed by a minority many of the majority fears.
  • He has constantly used the now widely discussed confirmation bias to plant doubts about his political opponents’ ability to lead.
  • And it was the mainstream polling predicting a defeat in the last election that famously rallied the base and only increased Netanyahu’s victory.

You won’t find anyone that has a “parve,” or neutral, stance on Netanyahu. His attitude, his positions and his campaigning style mean that the people either love him or they hate him. It’s pure, unfiltered emotion.

Well America, doesn’t all of this sound familiar?

Trump and the other anti-establishment movements springing up in democracies all over the world have acted in kind, simply taking up the art and shedding the traditional science of political campaigns. Emotion has won over traditional policy debate, and that is why today they too are winning — just like Netanyahu. 

As we move into 2017, all political consultants must at least consider the changes to the old rulebook. We are living in a world that can no longer be described as binary or polar. It is multi-polar, and to some extent post-truth. Social media, talk radio and multifarious ideologically affiliated newspapers and cable TV channels mean we no longer need to hear anyone else’s opinions.

2017 is full of even more (hopefully) free and fair parliamentary and presidential elections, from France to Chile. And while the pollsters will continue to focus on the science, testing words and polling the public, the victor will be the one who can internalize those burning passions, the raw powerful emotions of the electorate.


Ari Harow is a political consultant and former chief of staff to Prime Minister Netanyahu.

The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.