Falling in Love, or Falling in Line? Trump, Clinton, and Mobilization in the 2016 Election in Florida

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The 2016 presidential election was a contentious period that exposed some of America’s deepest, most acrimonious divides. In few places was the contest more hard-fought than in Florida, a perennial swing state whose voters often play a decisive role in who occupies the White House. Previous scholarship explores questions of who becomes involved in social movements and why, but the literature is inconclusive as to whether individuals with opposing political views will likewise express different motivations for mobilizing in campaigns. Other scholars have also theorized the potential differences in strategy employed by movements with divergent aims; this body of work is also inconclusive. In a novel treatment, this project examines candidates’ campaigns as social movement organizations (SMOs), providing empirical insight (via in-depth, semi-structured interviews with campaign volunteers and staff) into the question of whether and how individuals and movements differ in motivation and strategy, as they do in beliefs. The results indicate that, while their political preferences are dramatically different, campaign volunteers are quite similar in their reasons for becoming involved, their propensity for idealism or pragmatism, and their animosity toward the other side. By contrast, the two major parties’ campaigns differed in strategy to a dramatic degree, employing different tactics, running campaign events differently, and approaching persuasion in distinct ways. To add context to the interview findings, the project also uses survey and observation data from campaign rallies to illustrate differences in the two candidates’ bases of support and their campaigns’ workings.