At Trajectory we talk a lot about uncertainty. Being a foresight consultancy, making predictions and helping organisations understand how their world is changing can be a leap into the unknown.
There is currently a great deal of global uncertainty – much of it arising from tempestuous political developments on the other side of the Atlantic, where the US is edging towards a key date for the next decade, the Presidential election on 8th November 2016.
After Super Tuesday this week we’re closer than ever to knowing who will contest that election, with either Donald Trump or Hilary Clinton likely to be the 45th President. But on both the Democratic and Republican sides of the nomination race there is evidence of political volatility that could shape elections around the world for years to come. The terms of the race so far have been set by those operating way outside the political mainstream, with Trump’s rise on the Republican right very nearly matched by Bernie Sanders’ rise to the left of Hilary Clinton.
The rise of political outsiders is unsettling the mainstream far beyond the US Presidential contest.
Last year the UK bore witness to the rise of Jeremy Corbyn from Labour’s left to lead the party, following the comparative rise over the previous parliament of UKIP, the SNP and the Green Party. Across Europe other alternatives to the usual suspects are gaining attention and votes, from Syriza in Greece to Pegida in Germany and Podemos in Spain. Alternatives – like Trump, Corbyn or Sanders are not always embraced by the majority, but do capture the attention and support of a sizeable minority – sizeable enough to offer new voices and much disruption to the exisiting political class.
The rise of these alternatives represents in many cases a failure of the establishment to provide satisfactory answers (from the public’s point of view) to questions raised by the financial crisis and glacially paced recovery.
Almost a decade after the financial crisis first began, consumers have only recently started to feel better off than they were in the sepia tinted days before Freddie Mac, Northern Rock, and Lehman Brothers became household names and global news. In the UK, the Chancellor has been warning of a ‘dangerous cocktail’ of global threats to the UK’s still embryonic recovery.
The bad news may keep on coming – with new voices offering previously unpopular perspectives likely to take advantage of dissent.
Consumers feeling unrepresented by the establishment and buffeted by economic storms will hunt for meaning elsewhere in the spectrum. Reaching them when they’ve gone will be harder than preventing them from going. Research from Pew in the US suggests that voters are not reaching out from the centre to support outsiders like Trump and Sanders, but leaving the centre ground altogether.
A new fragmented politics is being born out of this polarisation, with acres of space in the centre ground, and a consensus among the public that alternatives are the only option to avoid more of what they have been getting.