It’s tempting to take a look at the recent U.K. election results – where Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party won a crushing victory over the opposition – and use them to make a prediction about the upcoming U.S. elections.

That’s certainly understandable: Three years ago, the unexpected victory of the “yes” vote in the Brexit referendum presaged by five months the shocking upset win by Donald Trump in the presidential race. Similar political factors were at play in both elections as well: White, working-class voters abandoned their traditional political alignment in droves, powering the upset. In both nations, these voters were concerned about immigration and trade.

It would be a mistake, though, to presume that simply because Boris Johnson did well in the U.K. elections that it necessarily bodes well for Donald Trump in his own re-election bid. While similar issues may have been front and center for voters, and Britain and the United States share quite a deal of cultural and political history, they remain very different nations with different political systems. Even if we cannot use the British results as the basis for predictions about next year, we can use it as the basis for lessons about the upcoming elections – both nationally and here in Maine.

The first and foremost lesson is that your opponent’s unpopularity is no guarantee of victory. Heading into the election, Boris Johnson’s approval rating was an abysmal 33 percent – 10 points lower than Donald Trump’s is today. However, the leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, was even more unpopular, registering at just 24 percent. Johnson was truly blessed by having an opponent who managed to be even more unpopular than he was, just as Donald Trump was blessed by running against Hillary Clinton in 2016. If either of them had faced different opponents in that same race, there may well have been a vastly different outcome.

This gets back to a truism of politics that both parties all too often seem to forget at times: Voters really do want someone they can vote for; it’s very rare that they actually are voting solely against someone.

Although that may be true for the party base, it’s not often the case for most of the population. That’s why it’s dangerous to make predictions and assumptions based on early polls of any kind, but especially those based solely on approval rating or the ever-popular “Generic Republican/Democrat.” By the end of the campaign, in nearly every race, candidates have to convince voters not just to vote against the other guy, but also for them. That’s a big part of the reason Clinton lost and why Corbyn was such a disaster for the Labour Party: Millions of voters simply couldn’t see them leading the country, no matter how controversial their opponent was.

Political parties can avoid this pitfall not simply by choosing a candidate who polls well, but one who can truly lay out a positive vision. If all a candidate ever does is talk about their opponent, that’s not a sign of strength, but of weakness. It shows that their primary focus is in simply doing the opposite of whatever their opponent would do.

Another key lesson from the U.K. is how important party unity is. Even though Conservatives lost ground in areas that had voted against Brexit, the Labour Party managed to lose ground in areas that voted for and against it.

Both parties were divided over the issue, but the Conservatives did a much better job of sticking together throughout the election. A big part of the reason for that is that Corbyn was never able to settle on a clear position regarding Brexit; voters at least knew if they voted for a Conservative they’d finally get it done.

That’s something for us to consider not only as the Democrats proceed with their primaries, but also as they move forward with the impeachment process. It will be important to keep in mind not just how Congress votes, but how the public feels about it, too.

If Trump’s support among Republicans drops, that could hurt both him and his defenders in Congress; if support for impeachment among Democrats drops, that will hurt their candidates. If either party ends up becoming less unified on impeachment – or if the feelings of independent voters on the issue shifts radically – it could well end up being the decisive factor in the next election. If polling remains unchanged, it may not make much of a difference at all.

Jim Fossel, a conservative activist from Gardiner, worked for Sen. Susan Collins. He can be contacted at:

[email protected]

Twitter: jimfossel

 


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