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Three consultation lessons from the US election

At the time of writing, President Trump is still resisting calls to concede the election, but the process up until this point has given us much food for thought. Although it would be easy to dismiss it as irrelevant, here at the Institute we think there are three major lessons for consultations that can be taken from what we know so far:

  1. Be careful of ‘monolithism’ groupthink

One of the early major losses for the Democrats in the election was in Florida, where hopes for Joe Biden were dashed by results from Miami-Dade county which came back in favour of the current incumbent. Like many American states, Florida has a high (albeit still minority) proportion of Latino and Hispanic residents. These have traditionally been seen as a major Democratic constituency, with few supporting the Republicans. This assumption may well have doomed the Democrats in Miami-Dade, where a high proportion of this group are of Cuban and Venezuelan origin, which have more conservative tendencies. Unlike Latinos of Mexican origin in other Southern States, they respond to different political messages. Here is a major lesson for consultors. Avoid thinking about minority groups as homogeneous or monolithic. Within each community, there will be many sub-groups, and they may have major impacts on your consultation responses. Make sure you appreciate and account for these differences.

  1. Increased polarisation can reflect a lack of consultation

It has to be said, the United States is not a very consultative country as a whole. There are many cultural reasons for this, and also exceptions, but the forms of continual democracy in the US (often at a state level, rather than the federal) often takes different forms to those commonly used in the UK. Those who watch American TV programmes will be familiar with their town hall style meetings and evidence sessions (Parks and Recreation has some fine fictional examples). One of the defining features of the modern America is how politically polarised the population is. Echo-chambers abound. There is very little room for dissenting views, and elements of groupthink abound. One reason is the relative lack of a consultative culture. Consultation allows entrenched views to be questioned and challenged, and ultimately tested against practical realities. Perhaps a more consultative approach would ease some of the tensions that are increasingly becoming problematic in American society?

  1. The Quantitative/Qualitative balance

One of the major differences in coverage of the US election between the UK and US seems to have been presentational. In the UK, the focus of much of the reporting was on the narrative of the election, whereas on the other side of the Atlantic the focus was on data and the pure numbers. Just watch how numbers-oriented CNN’s coverage has been. Both have their value of course, and each should be used appropriately for the context. How they’re reported however can be important. Ultimately the vote will be won on the numbers- but lessons can also be learned from what the numbers tell us about the argument. Unlike elections, consultations are very rarely a vote, though the volume of support for a particular argument can be important. The narrative of consultation responses is often more important than the pure numbers. Consultors need to be aware that they should not focus excessively on the numbers so as not to lose sight of the bigger picture and how the arguments are falling.

About the Author

Stephen serves as the Institute’s Legal and Parliamentary Officer. Before joining the Institute Stephen studied Law at Bangor University and pursued a Masters’ degree in Aviation and Space Law at McGill University in Montreal. After this, he returned to London and was called to the bar in 2016 at the Honorable Society of Gray’s Inn, before deciding not to go into practice and move towards public policy work instead. Within the Institute, Stephen provides legal, political and policy analysis of UK and global current affairs of interest to consultors and consultees.

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