We Were All Wrong About the Election. Here’s What We Can Take Away From It.

More ethnography, less polling. Understanding the human aspects of perspective and change

Big data and polling didn’t work (again)…

Ask yourself the question: Do any of us participate in telephone polling or even online polling nowadays? How can you accurately call an election with such antiquated methods? I was recently with ex-Clinton pollster and strategist Mark Penn and challenged him on this. He of course assured me the polls were accurate!

…Because politicians (and many business execs) live in a bubble, and always have.

Both find listening to the hopes and dreams of their constituents hard because, sometimes, it’s not what you want to hear. At C Space, our work is more ethnography, less polling. It’s understanding the human aspects of perspective and change. Love him or hate him, the “ethnographer” Michael Moore understood “Trumpland” better than any of the pollsters. When polls were getting it wrong, he was out there – understanding people, empathizing with their realities – getting it right. As he predicted in this blog post months ago: “From Green Bay to Pittsburgh, this, my friends, is the middle of England – broken, depressed, struggling, the smokestacks strewn across the countryside with the carcass of what we use to call the Middle Class…What happened in the UK with Brexit is going to happen here.”

Hillary Clinton and her advisers listened to their pollsters, lived in a bubble, and never accurately understood the anti-establishment feeling (even long-established traditions of hoisting celebrities on stage for her final rallies felt misguided). Many businesses make the same mistakes. They still need help to see the human truths and get out of their echo chambers.

Our world is much bigger than our bubbles. We need to embrace that.

This election has shown us the urban elites of New York, Boston, San Francisco, Los Angeles, London, Paris, Frankfurt, Shanghai, and Tokyo have more in common today with each other than they do with the largely rural, blue-collar communities that are in decline in many parts of the developed world. Most of us at C Space live our lives in the urban bubbles. And most companies operate in them, too.

The key for companies is to better understand perspectives outside the bubble. Kathy Cramer, a political science professor at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, spent years traveling throughout rural Wisconsin, deeply embedding herself in the lives of a group that lives far outside our urban bubbles. Her work getting to know these people is a lesson for us all. As she recently told The Washington Post: “There’s just more and more of a recognition that politics for people is not — and this is going to sound awful, but — it’s not about facts and policies. It’s so much about identities, people forming ideas about the kind of person they are and the kind of people others are. Who am I for, and who am I against?…Policy is part of that, but policy is not the driver of these judgments. There are assessments of, is this someone like me? Is this someone who gets someone like me?

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