Ten years ago, I was sitting in a lecture about cultural differences and similarities between Finns and Americans. I thought I’d heard it all as a Finnish American having lived in both countries, but no. I quickly discovered that my two representative nations are equally fascinated by underdogs and longshots.
There is a deep appreciation on both sides of the Atlantic for people, teams and companies that overcome extreme adversity to pull off something huge. Finnish and American cultures abound with stories about seemingly impossible victories in the sports and business worlds, which describes a whole article in itself. But this isn’t the sports and business issue of SAM Magazine; This issue is all about U.S. presidential elections.
Underdogs, the surprise candidates in elections, are known as political longshots, and there are more than a few when it comes to U.S. elections historically. The biggest political longshot in recent memory is likely the 2016 election of President Trump.
Millions of people around the world relied on polls and new outlets for a sense of which direction America was headed four years ago. Many mainstream media outlets pointed to Hillary Clinton’s victory as election day approached. For instance, The New York Times gave Trump a 15 percent probability of winning, while CNN offered only 9%. After results were announced, members of the public were reasonable to question whether political polling in the United States could still be trusted. Research organizations and think tanks like Pew Research Center have noted valuable lessons learned from 2016, and they’ve since adjusted their polling variables and margins of error.
Yet politics can be wildly unpredictable, even with more accurate polling.
2018 midterm elections, general elections that are held near the midpoint of a president’s term, gave us the political longshot known as Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) from New York’s 14th Congressional District. Now the star of viral videos that promote her political agenda across the globe, AOC was once considered a longshot to veteran pundits with a track record of correct predictions. She ran a mainly online campaign with only sparse coverage by traditional media, and her progressive approach helped secure a landslide victory. AOC became the youngest woman to ever serve in Congress at 29 years old.
These examples may make it easy to assume that political longshots are a recent phenomenon in U.S. politics, perhaps a sign of the technological and unpredictable times we live in. However, as soon as I said political longshot, I’m sure that you history buffs immediately thought of U.S. President Truman.
In 1948, Harry Truman ran for president as the leader of a struggling Democratic party, after having lost both chambers of Congress to the Republican party in the 1946 midterms. The media, pollsters, and fellow politicians all affirmed Republican Thomas Dewey as the next president. In fact, the Chicago Daily Tribune prematurely reported Dewey as the winner in one of the most famous media gaffs of all time. Harry Truman was forever cemented as a political longshot in U.S. history.
It is difficult to predict who will win 2020 elections. But we know for certainty that political longshots will appear again in the future, and the world will follow them with great interest. I know I will.
Artikkeli on julkaistu SAM Magazine 3/2020-numerossa syyskuussa 2020.
Alexandra Pasternak-Jackson, CEO at Amcham Finland, is working to make Finland a more open and international place to do business and to help Finnish companies navigate the US market. She has taught on the importance of networking as well as held non-profit board positions, both in Finland and the US. Alexandra holds an MBA from Haaga Helia University of Applied Sciences and a BA from the Elliott School of International Affairs at the George Washington University. She lives in Helsinki with her Texan husband and two kids.