The Trump Effect

So, many have noted the disparity in standards set for the candidates. Indeed, Trump has said and done certain things which would end any other campaign, yet it has had relatively small effect on Trump’s campaign.

This is my take on why.

Defining the Trump effect

Here’s how I would define the Trump effect:

The Trump effect is the phenomenon in which a group or individual lowers the standard such that diverging or abnormal behavior does not hurt one’s reputation to the same extent as other groups or individuals acting similarly.

Essentially humans judge an individual based on their expected behavior, and if poor behavior is expected, it is naturally to assume they’re behaving well if they beat their expectation.

An analogy is children: No one expects a child to behave like an adult, but if they do, they have overperformed their expected behavior.

Trump’s campaign

When Trump announced his campaign, it was declared a joke. Joke candidates are expected to behave so, and thus it is no surprise when they do.

Trump has consistently behaved unpresidential, but the damage done by such behavior was relatively limited.

As an example, take Trump mocking a disabled reporter:

Image of Trump's imitation of the reporter

In any other campaign, this would have severely damaged it, or even ended it. With Trump, it didn’t have this effect, at all.

The second example is his comments on a woman accusing him of rape:

Take a look. You look at her, look at her words. You tell me what you think. I don’t think so. I don’t think so.

It is quite clear what he tries to say here: The woman in question apparently wasn’t attractive enough for him to rape.

These comments are absolutely terrifying, but did they end his campaign? No, they didn’t.

The myth of nature defying Trump

To be clear, they did hurt him, but they didn’t nearly do it as strongly as it would for any other campaign.

Nate Silver did a quite interesting article on this “Trump isn’t teflon”.

Trump’s action tends to hurt him, and not the opposite, as some have claimed. But there is a major difference in the degree to which the news affects the campaign.

Overperforming the expectations

The week when Trump visited Mexico, he performed exceptionally well in the polls, even beating Clinton.

But why?

He didn’t did the exceptional thing of acting presidential and normal. Overperforming the expectations makes people greatly exaggerate the valuation.

Hillary Clinton was expected to behave presidentially, Trump isn’t. As such, even a single week of acting normally results in a massive upswing in the polls.

Compare to Howard Dean

Howard Dean ran in 2004. For comparison, his campaign was declared ended after his infamous awkward speech “Dean’s scream speech”.

The fact that this over-enthusiastic speech could end his campaign is insane when you look it in comparison to the Trump candidacy.

Lowering the standard

The question is just: how is the low standard achieved?

One could say that all that was need is to consistently act poorly, but I doubt this is enough.

If one consistently acts poorly and then apologizes for it, they don’t etablish a low standard, because they admit they were underperforming themself.

Compare Governor of Maine, Paul LePage, to president-elect, Donald Trump. LePage consistently acts poorly, like Trump. But he is still widely unpopular (in fact, very much so, he has historically low approval ratings), and he is still put to a high standard.


LePage apologizes for his actions, and I think this is where they differ. Trump never apologizes for his actions, as such he never admits actually being wrong and thus pushing up the standards again (“I didn’t mean to do this”).