No one should be surprised that Donald Trump won the presidential election in 2016, according to social psychologist Musa al-Gharbi. In fact, al-Gharbi, as he explained to Mic, said no one should be surprised when he wins again in 2020 either.
Al-Gharbi is confident in this prediction because of the behavioral phenomenon he has spent years researching called the the “default effect,” which means that even when people are unhappy with a state of affairs, they are often disinclined to actually change them.
“The 2020 race sort of favors ‘the Donald’ going into it, unless the Democrats really mix up their game,” al-Gharbi said.
He further explained the “default effect” in a blog post on his site where he defined it in more internet-friendly terms, saying, “Americans have widespread concerns about how software and entertainment companies are collecting and using their data or manipulating their choices.” However, in almost all cases, companies do indeed make it clear what you’re getting into and what data they plan to collect.
But, al-Gharbi explained, most internet users will never even read the terms of service agreement on a website.
It’s highly likely, according to al-Gharbi, that American voters will breeze past the sign-up page in the 2020 election to click “next” simply because it takes too much time and effort to effectively navigate what it means to have new president.
“Even if you don’t like the current state of affairs, if you’re used to it, chances are you have at least some kind of investment in the current order,” al-Gharbi said. “You develop strategies to navigate it. And what’s next could be a lot worse.”
The Democrats are struggling with their identity
This isn’t the first time al-Gharbi has predicted a Trump victory. He actually made his first prediction way back in March 2016, when he wrote simply and plainly: “Donald Trump is going to be the next president of the United States, and he will have the Democratic National Committee to thank for it.”
So how did leaders in the Democratic Party let down their own constituents so badly? By totally ignoring all the signs, according to al-Gharbi.
“Over the course of that whole year, I tried to urgently explain, especially to people on the left, to take Trump seriously because he was probably going to win. And then he did,” he said.
And if history and statistics are any indication, the Democrats will let its voter base down again in 2018 for the midterms and yet again in 2020 for the presidential election, according to al-Gharbi — unless they make radical changes, which some leaders within the party are ready to make.
“We need a better economic profile,” Celinda Lake, a pollster and political strategist for the Democratic Party, said. “[The 2020 election] will be totally different, frankly, because the incumbent race is always different, but I think the biggest lesson to learn is to have a stronger economic profile. And it still worries me today that we are behind the Republicans on the economy. We are still four to six points point behind on the economy and jobs.”
As al-Gharbi warned, the Democratic Party is having a “demographic crisis,” meaning its members are losing sight of who does, and does not, support them anymore. And they will have no chance, according to al-Gharbi, “Unless they make a lot of gains with white people who do not live on the coast,” adding “the Democratic Party has this huge branding problem.”
Lake agreed, telling Mic that the party will have to do serious work to ensure its base turns out and “doesn’t defect” in either the midterms or the presidential election. “You have to be in places early and talking to them,” she said. “Go back and talk to them.”
To help win over both their current voter base and would-be supporters, both al-Gharbi and Lake said the Democrats will need to find a nearly unrealistic candidate who can talk to the various groups of Americans and be everything to everyone.
Democrats, al-Gharbi said, need someone “to make people feel like their vote is going to make the country a better place.” There is one person, according to Lake, for the job: Minnesota Sen. Al Franken.
“First of all, he’s super smart, he’s very engaging, he knows how to stand up to negative,” she said. “He’s obviously qualified and very smart. He’s got the showmanship, too.”
Lake believes Franklin understands how to mobilize the base and how to talk to both urban and rural voters: “I think he’s kind of a sleeper.”
As for Democratic favorite Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, both Lake and al-Gharbi believe she makes an excellent candidate on paper but would have a difficult time turning Trump supporters her way.
Trump’s controversies aside, history favors the incumbent.
Even with a killer candidate, a new message and a superb campaign, history and statistics simply aren’t on the Democrats’ side.
Since 1932, only four presidents have lost reelection: George H.W. Bush, Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford and Herbert Hoover.
But it’s Carter’s loss that may have the most lessons to learn from for the Democrats.
“It’s not that Carter was unpopular, because a lot of presidents were unpopular,” al-Gharbi said. “But he was also going up against Ronald Reagan. Reagan was super-charismatic, people knew him. He was viewed as this visionary, transformative leader. So that’s what [the Democrats] need. They need someone who can relate to ordinary people, who has some kind of positive, inspiring vision, not a list of 10-point plans.”
And don’t think for a minute you can sit back and hope for an impeachment before the 2020 election even comes up. In fact, al-Gharbi called that “pure fantasy.” To impeach Trump would require a majority in the House, he explained, along with a two-thirds vote in the Senate, which is highly unlikely as Republicans currently control both.
Even with all of Trump’s headline-making statements, Lake isn’t counting Trump out just yet to win re-election.
“I don’t think it’s a shoe-in for a Democrat at all,” she said, giving the odds at 60-40 for a Democrat to take over the White House. “I don’t think we should underestimate Trump.”
Still, not all hope is lost for the Democrats. They did find Obama once, who gave that perfect recipe of hope and change — something they’ll need to unseat Trump. Perhaps they can find someone just like him again.