Destructionists versus Constructionists: America’s New Political Divide?

COVID-19 and the tragic death of George Floyd have had a major—and we hope to some degree an irreversible—impact on how Americans will be dealing with race, social justice, education, workplace dynamics, and even how we dine. The last few weeks could also be a turning point for how Americans think about politics.

Labels such as liberal or conservative, Democrat or Republican, socialist or nationalist have dominated the political dialogue for many years. But in today’s world, such labels are more likely to divide and obfuscate than define and illuminate. When protests and rioting erupted across the United States, many wondered who on the streets were valid protesters and who were provocateurs seeking to exploit the unrest to enrich themselves or promote their creed. Labels abounded. We were told they were anti-fascists/antifa, white nationalists, boogalooers, white supremacists, anarchists, looters, criminals, or just thugs.

In the coming weeks and months, we probably will learn a lot more about who was on the streets, how many people were involved in legitimate protest activity, who was responsible for the fires and looting, and whether any were involved in both. There is always value in acquiring such data, but we must not overlook a much more important reality.

Applying labels in an effort to place blame on the far left or the far right misses the point. It makes it easy to fall into the pernicious trap of Confirmation Bias. The boogalooers, for example, are described as supporters of “civil revolutionary war.” Some members are avid supporters of President Trump, and others want to bring his government down. But when Confirmation Bias sets in, you only notice which side of the argument supports your view.

We Need a New Lexicon
The real distinction may be more than just ideological. A better lens for understanding people’s intentions and a more useful framework for projecting what now needs to be done in America is to throw away the overused labels. Instead, we should divide whom we saw on the streets and in our society in general into two groups:  Destructionists and Constructionists.

  • Destructionists want to tear down institutions, erode norms, and increase their own power or personal standing by making their competitors weaker. They are quick to act on feelings and beliefs, point fingers and  blame others, and tear down without offering alternatives. They tend to be exclusive, preferring to expel from their midst those not pure enough. They talk but often don’t bother to listen.
  • Constructionists want to build a better society. They want to learn, they want to reform and transform, and advocate for change that builds a stronger, more just, and democratic society. They support a civic culture and tend to be inclusive, They talk but will stop first to listen.

When we try to make sense of individual or group behavior in America—and even in the world—a useful first question to ask is: “When I observe protesters and others making arguments, are they at their core seeking to strengthen or erode institutions, preserve or diminish norms and standards, and preserve or challenge discrimination?” Traditional labels to describe where an individual or group stands on a particular political or social issue may not be the appropriate distinguisher. It is time to stop blaming others and focus on fixing problems and reforming institutions.

And Everyone Now Needs to Get Engaged
An even more fundamental question to ask is: “is this person or group trying in their own way to make things better?” For example, George Floyd was described by his friends as an “adder” not a “subtractor.” If you don’t like what someone is saying, don’t dismiss them or start an argument. A more productive strategy for a Constructionist is to tell that person how what they said affected you and seek to understand what prompted them to say it. Once a non-confrontational dialogue is initiated, more productive actions are possible. And the time has come to be proactive in promoting such changes.

On the other hand, if the behavior of a person or group you observe seems intended mostly to divide people, abuse power, impose one’s views on others, and enhance one’s own pockets or standing, then the best response is probably to pay them less attention—and encourage others to do so as well. They have a right to speak but not to dominate the airwaves. Constructionists should take more initiative for setting the national agenda. Meanwhile, the destructionists can continue to live in their world, create their own comfortable narratives, many often spun from disinformation. Destructionists should not be allowed to command the spotlight if what they say does not contribute to a better America and a better world for ALL of us.

In a recent email my wife sent our company about the need to stand in solidarity against racism, inequality, and injustice, she noted how she had been inspired earlier in her career by the words of an ancient Egyptian named Ptah Hotep. He said: “If he who listens listens fully, then he who listens becomes he who understands.” A key component of being a constructionist is being able to listen and gain a deeper understanding of what is motivating those with whom we are seeking a new common ground. Now is the time to listen more, strive to understand, and seek a new common ground. We must take personal responsibility for building a better society and a more just world for everyone.

A key metric of success is whether in six months the national dialogue is dominated by reports of positive acts that are being done by eclectic groups of constructionists that never used to talk to each other. Wouldn’t it be nice to hear yourself saying: “Look at what we have accomplished. I am truly proud to be an American. I can stand tall, and I did my part!” As one of our colleagues suggested, our new mantra could be “Listen, Think, Do – Together.”

A New Way to Divide America?

In the coming months, Americans may find themselves divided into two new classes—the “munies” who have antibodies and immunity from the COVID-19 virus and the “no-vids” who have not contracted the COVID-19 virus and possess no antibodies.

  • The munies will not need to practice physical distancing, can go back to work, meet in groups, and even date.
  • The no-vids must continue to practice physical distancing when around other no-vids, wear masks, and work or study at home when possible.

The biggest social implication of the emergence of two new categories of people is that we may wake up in a couple months living in a hybrid society. For example, munie children and teachers can go back to school but their no-vid friends and colleagues must stay at home. Our teachers have worked hard to develop ways to continue teaching online. In a month or so, they may have to repeat this learning cycle again, developing new methods for teaching a hybrid classroom with half the class on the screen and the other half in their seats. Another concern is that minorities could be disproportionately represented in the no-vid population.

A similar dynamic is likely to play out in the business world. When you attend a meeting, a percentage of participants may still need to be online. What guarantees they have equal opportunity to participate in the discussion and equal influence? Can you allow the no-vids to come to work if they promise to stay in a room or a cubicle by themselves and not circulate?

A silver lining on this cloud is that most nuclear families will not face this problem. Everyone in their small group will probably fall into one or the other category.

This vision of the future is based on the following key assumptions:

  • A test becomes widely available with over 99% accuracy that can identify people with anti-bodies that make them immune from catching the virus.
  • Munies who have the antibodies will exert considerable pressure to open up businesses again so they can start earning a paycheck.
  • Demand for antibody testing will grow exponentially. Some scientists estimate that up to 30 percent of the population that had the virus may not have known they were infected. They could possess the antibodies and not know it. Why continue to stay at home if you can be tested for antibodies and found immune?
  • A vaccine for the COVID-19 virus will not be available until 2021.
  • The presence of antibodies makes it almost certain a person cannot contract the COVID-19 for a year—hopefully after a vaccine is available.

Looking Ahead. If this Foresight scenario proves prescient, four dynamics will quickly emerge:

  • Hybrid Models. Policies will soon proliferate at state and local levels on how to conduct our daily business using hybrid models as governments seek to leverage the availability of munies to help them open up the economy.
  • Personal Branding. Society will want to know if you are a munie or a no-vid when you go to the grocery, walk down the street or show up for a meeting. Munies will want or need to wear an arm band, bracelet, or badge to announce their status. No-vids should be easy to identify because they should still be wearing masks.
  • Covid Documentation. The munie/no-vid distinction could begin to dictate how we conduct every aspect of our life—going to school, work, church, shopping, and socializing. Once we have a vaccine, everyone can be a munie but, until then, no-vids may be afraid that other no-vids are misrepresenting themselves and putting other no-vids at risk. If this becomes a serious problem, then someone’s munie status may have to be validated by a doctor or a medical facility. People may even be asked to “show their papers” before entering a building.
  • Accurate testing. Both government and society will demand that antibody testing be as accurate as possible; every false negative could pose a serious health risk. Only FDA approved tests should be allowed on the market.

On the bright side, let’s hope that celebrations will proliferate for those who attain and can formally document their munie status.

Learn more about key assumptions and Strategic Foresight analysisorder a copy of the just published 3rd edition of  Structured Analytic Techniques for Intelligence Analysis.

Structured Analytic Techniques for Intelligence Analysis, 3rd ed.

To explore how these techniques can be used to promote your own well-being, check out  How to Get the Right Diagnosis: 16 Tips for Navigating the Medical System

Moving from Disagreement to Dialogue

As COVID-19 increasingly adds stress to our lives, it could either spur greater polarization in our society or become the stimulus for bringing us together. Our ability to come out of this crisis with minimal damage will depend in large part on learning how to better engage each other in a constructive, problem-solving dialogue. The best way to avoid conflict is to show more empathy, be a good listener, and strive to understand what motivates others.

Disagreements generally arise from one of three root causes.

  • Having different facts or perceptions
  • Conflicting interpretation of those facts
  • Dissimilar goals or objectives for the desired outcome

If we can learn to first ask ourselves what is causing us to disagree, our conversations will be more productive.

Different and Missing Facts. Having different information about a topic is the most obvious cause of disagreements. Most people start with the assumption that others around them are working with the same information but this often is not the case. A good way to avoid this to apply the ABCs of sharing information: First Ask the other person for their data. Find out if you are getting your data from different sources. Second, Brief the other person on your facts. Provide as much context as you can. Third, Continue cooperative communication which is always needed to maintain trust.

Conflicting Interpretations. You and your colleagues may interpret information differently because you: 1) hold different assumptions about the facts, 2) value the same data differently, 3) have different experiences working with similar facts or situations, or 4) bring varying skills to processing and interpreting the information. Resolving differences depends on identifying why you view or value information differently. Structured Analytic Techniques can be used to identify which data are driving the analytic conclusion or what assumptions are being made about the data or lack of data. The objective is to focus on the key differences, how they can best be resolved, and what strategies would be most effective in bringing the issue to closure.

Dissimilar Goals or Objectives. The most difficult situation occurs when parties have the same facts and evaluate them the same way, but each party wants a different outcome because of personal values or beliefs or personal defensiveness. Uncovering those psychological differences is hard and, even when they can be identified, the parties may not be able to overcome or circumvent them. This is often the norm with political discourse when the goals are conflicting, which partly explains the growing politicization of our society. Some conflicts of interest are real, and resolution can only come through negotiations.


If some friends tell you COVID-19 is no worse that the flu and you believe otherwise, you should ask them:

  • Where did they get their information? How informed are their sources?
  • What was the logic behind that conclusion?
  • Have they seen the World Health Organization report that says COVID-19 is more contagious, more lethal, has no current vaccine or cure, and will spread exponentially?
  • How would you relate these facts to your facts?
  • Do they believe a cure will soon be found mitigating the danger?
  • Do you see this as a problem affecting cities but not rural areas?
  • Do you think reducing the number of deaths should be the prime task?

Learn more about how to reduce conflict and promote collaboration, order a copy of the just published 3rd edition of Structured Analytic Techniques for Intelligence Analysis.

Structured Analytic Techniques for Intelligence Analysis, 3rd ed.

To explore how structured techniques can be used in a much different way, check out How to Get the Right Diagnosis: 16 Tips for Navigating the Medical System

Coronavirus: Facing Difficult Decisions

As the coronavirus continues its path from Wuhan, China, spreading infection rates and fear, senior policymakers face difficult political decisions. They must decide whether to:

  1. Take aggressive action to stem the propagation of the virus and potentially suffer serious criticism for overreacting even if they acted correctly.
  2. Opt not to take dramatic and unpopular actions that in hindsight people cite as being necessary to quickly contain the spread of the deadly virus.
  3. Downplay the seriousness of the threat to avoid unduly alarming their constituents.

A decision, for example, to prohibit all flights from China could prevent valuable medicines from being shipped to a country where they suddenly are desperately needed. Similarly, closing schools or businesses could unduly disrupt normal productive activity.

When faced with difficult choices, I advise taking an hour to employ a Structured Analytic Technique like Premortem Analysis or reviewing a previous Structured Self-Critique to prevent a potentially calamitous decision.

With Premortem Analysis, the decision maker should ask: “If a month or so has passed, could my policy—and the rationale for it—be described as a spectacular mistake?” The technique works best right after the decision maker and his or her team reach consensus on the best approach to address the problem. The decision maker should then gather his or her team and say:

“Ok, we now think we have the right answer on how to proceed, but we need to double-check this. Imagine that we have announced this policy and in a couple months we would all agree it was a big mistake. Let’s brainstorm why the policy turned out to be so spectacularly wrong and what needs to be done now to avoid that mistake. Let’s start by looking at the reasons we are listing to justify our decision.”

Participants should be encouraged to look at the situation from a variety of perspectives including the general population, hospitals, transportation disruptions, the impact on commerce, and even financial services.

Ideally, in previous months or years, some analysts would have already conducted a Structured Self Critique exercise—harvesting lessons learned from past outbreaks including the 2003 Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak and the 2009 H1N1 influenza virus to identify past mistakes and discover near misses that decision makers should avoid making again.

Learn more about Premortem Analysis and the Structured Self-Critique, in the newly published 3rd edition of Structured Analytic Techniques for Intelligence Analysis. It showcases 66 techniques—including 9 new ones—organized into six families that track with the analytic production process.

Structured Analytic Techniques for Intelligence Analysis, 3rd ed.

Impeachment Indicators: Making a List and Checking it Thrice!

Two events will become the focus of our—and probably the world’s—attention early this year: Trump’s impeachment trial and the Democratic primary campaign. Expect to be overwhelmed with a cacophony of opinion, predictions, and rhetoric. How do busy people sort through the noise to determine what actually is going on and what it means for them?

The best strategy is to establish an objective set of baseline criteria—or indicators—for evaluating the dynamics and use them to track the discussion. By creating a pre-determined yardstick, you will be able to better understand—and better defend—the position you think makes the most sense. It also provides a valuable middle ground to stimulate constructive dialogue with those who come to different conclusions. And it makes it a lot easier to process what you read on the internet or see in the media because you will know what information matters the most to you.

In this article, we explore how to apply this process to the impeachment trial. In the next Analytic Insider we will explore how to use it—and the Decision Matrix—to decide which Democratic Party candidate for president best reflects your preferences no matter which party you might favor.

For tracking the impeachment trial, the first step is to establish a set of criteria for judging the President’s guilt or innocence. The criteria could include key factors such as:

  • Is there sufficient information to conclude that the President has committed a high crime or misdemeanor?
  • Does the President’s refusal to respond to Congressional requests for evidence and witnesses constitute an unconstitutional act?
  • Was a fair process established in the House and will a fair process be established in the Senate to allow Congress to make these judgments?

The second step is to identify a range of plausible responses relating to each criterion. For example, let’s begin with the second point. You can create your own list for the first and last criteria:

  1. The President is violating the constitution by ignoring legitimate Congressional requests for information needed to perform its oversight function and enforce the principle of checks and balances laid out in the Constitution.
  2. The President should comply with Congressional oversight requests unless the principle of Executive Privilege is violated. If a conflict arises over what is protected by Executive Privilege, the Courts should decide what information or conversations qualify for protection.
  3. The Executive is supreme and the President is not required to respond to any Congressional oversight requests. Moreover, the Courts should not become involved in any disputes between the Executive and Legislative branches.

The third step is to evaluate the quality of the data that you will use to determine which is the correct response. Does the information you are relying on to select or defend your position satisfy these three requirements? Is it:

  • Valid. Is the information I am receiving valid? Can the sources be trusted OR could I be a victim of intentional or unintentional digital disinformation?
  • Reliable. Would everyone rate this information the same way OR would people perceive it differently depending on their political affiliation?
  • Stable. Am I relying on a stable flow of information from a set of pre-selected sources or streams of information OR do I keep changing the mix of whom I listen to or whom I read?

Once you know the information you are relying on meets these tests, ask yourself if it supports or is inconsistent with each response. The response that is best supported by valid, reliable, and stable data is most likely to be true.


Over the years, Globalytica has established a set of standards for determining what constitutes a good indicator for constructing an objective yardstick. A good indicator should satisfy five criteria: it should be observable/collectible, valid, reliable, stable, and unique. When viewing the upcoming impeachment trial, we see the first and last criteria as less relevant. The observable/collectible requirement will be more than fulfilled by the news media and social media in our 24/7/365 world. The unique criterion is relevant when trying to decide which mutually exclusive scenario or hypothesis is the most likely. In this case, it is more a question of whether a threshold has been crossed, not which independent hypothesis is most likely to be true.

Explore how these techniques can be used—in a much different way—to keep you healthy in my new book, How to Get the Right Diagnosis: 16 Tips for Navigating the Medical System. The valuable guidelines in this book will help you keep those wellness New Year’s resolutions. Harness the power of analytics to take control of your health in 2020! Pre-order your copy (to be shipped later this month) at

Politicization: How to Tackle a Growing Challenge

The primary task of an analyst is to help policymakers and other decision makers make good decisions based on the best available information and the most compelling logic. This task becomes more challenging when the recipient of the analysis bases his or her decisions on pre-established, often immutable world views or sees the world as a battle of “us versus them.” Below, I offer techniques to maintain objectivity when offering analytic insights to decision makers under common briefing scenarios.

Traditional Policy Support. Savvy policymakers who know how to use intelligence analysis will look to analysts as an unparalleled source of actionable information and analytic insight. An analyst who has developed a trusting relationship with a policymaker can employ several techniques to avoid politicization.

  • The Rule of Three. When asked to make a recommendation, respond with three ways to approach the issue. Lay out the intelligence and logic that supports each approach and let the policymaker decide which makes the most sense.
  • Critique Existing Options. If several policy options are under consideration, provide an analysis of the likelihood of success for each but emphasize the quality of your information and any key information gaps.
  • Bring a Friend. Pre-brief a subordinate in the policymaker’s office and bring him or her with you. If the policymaker asks “What should I do?” or “What do you recommend?”, simply turn to the subordinate who probably has already anticipated the question and let him or her answer it.

Briefing Officials with Fixed Mindsets. When the client is more interested in imposing his or her view on the world, a successful analyst takes time to develop different strategies for communicating an apolitical analytic message.

  • Broaden the context. When an official seeks intelligence to justify a position, frame the response in a broader context. Offer up the pros and the cons to enable the decision maker to act based on a fully-informed set of facts and analysis.
  • Focus on strategic drivers. Generate “arms-length” strategic views of a situation, identifying key drivers and establishing an overarching framework for understanding the dynamics at play.
  • Employ SATs. Rely more heavily on Structured Analytic Techniques—such as Indicators, Argument Mapping, Deception Detection, and Analysis of Competing Hypotheses*—that can demonstrate in a compelling way how the official can avoid becoming victim of a mental mindset or a cognitive trap.

Analysts should never refrain from providing hard-hitting, objective, and well-supported analysis, even when the message is likely to be poorly received. However, be mindful that challenging a decision maker’s views directly is inappropriate and almost always counterproductive.

Briefing “Novice” Decision makers. In recent years as political polarization has increased in the United States—and throughout much of the world—analysts have been challenged with learning how to support a different type of policymaker: highly partisan, transactional decision makers who rely heavily on non-traditional sources of information and do not understand the role and mission of law enforcement and the intelligence community. Providing support to this new breed of decision makers requires a reframing of the roles and responsibilities of the analyst.

  • Redefine Your Primary Client. Intelligence communities need to expand the scope of their analytic support beyond the highest offices of leadership in their nations to a much broader array of decision makers and legislators.
  • Establish Analytic Baselines. The primary mission becomes the need to establish a baseline description of what is happening in the world (and why) for the national security community writ large.
  • Reset priorities. The traditional core functions of warning and counterintelligence remain critical, but additional attention is needed in two areas: 1) providing strategic perspective on global trends (such as climate change and cyber threats), and 2) ferreting out and actively countering the impact of digital disinformation.
  • Protect Sources. In an era of “novice” decision makers, greater emphasis must also be given to ensuring sources and methods are not compromised.

When dealing with both ideologues and “novice” decision makers, one of the worst mistakes an analyst can make is to self-censor. Self-censorship can take two forms:
1) tweaking the analysis to make it more acceptable to the client in the hope of retaining access and sustaining a dialogue, and
2) avoiding a topic because the views of the analytic community differ from those of the client, and analysts suspect the client will simply ignore or quickly dismiss the analysis.

In the end, it comes down to maintaining an analytic culture of direct engagement with the client, coupled with a deeply-ingrained culture of objectivity and integrity. Intelligence community managers need to constantly reinforce this culture. Senior leaders need to incentivize such behavior through example and by actively monitoring analyst interactions with policymakers and praising those who walk these fine lines the best.

A fuller discussion of how to avoid politicization will be found in the third edition of Critical Thinking for Strategic Intelligence, to be published in spring 2020.

* Explore these techniques – and many others – in Structured Analytic Techniques for Intelligence Analysis, by Randolph H. Pherson and Richards J. Heuer Jr.
The third edition, featuring step-by-step practical guidance for 66 techniques, will be published in January 2020. Insiders will receive an exclusive announcement when this latest edition of our best-selling volume hits the shelves!

What If the Two-Party System Collapses in the UK and the US?

In both the United Kingdom and the United States, two political parties traditionally have competed for power. The system of two dominant parties, however, is coming under increasing strain in both the UK and US. Citizens complain that government has become too politicized and its leaders too focused on self-aggrandizement. As a result, basic concerns of the people are not addressed.

In addition, the governing political parties appear to be suffering greater internal disarray:

  • In the UK, Conservative Prime Minister Boris Johnson “removed the whip” from 21 members of his party because they voted against Brexit, leaving the party without a majority in Parliament. His decision to prorogue the Parliament for five weeks was declared unlawful by the Supreme Court.
  • In the US, the Republican Party has been criticized for evolving into a political movement that does not dare differ with the US President. The leader of the Senate, for example, said he will not bring a bill to a vote unless the President assures him it will not be vetoed. Meanwhile, moderate Republicans fear being “primaried out” of their party, and an unusually high number of Republican legislators may choose not to run for reelection.

This article speculates that change in the political systems in the UK and the US could be startling and not incremental. What if these trends turn out to be not aberrations, but signs of a dramatic shift away from the current two-party political system? A good analyst would ask: How can one anticipate such a political transformation?

A good technique for working through such an issue is What If? Analysis. With this technique, one posits a dramatic—and usually controversial—outcome and then works backwards to find a credible pathway showing how it came about. To demonstrate the technique here, start with the theory that both the Conservative Party and the Republican Party will cease to exist in their present form in the next five years.

Step 1: Define a hypothetical endpoint as each country evolves into a new system of multiple parties contesting for power. See Figure 1 for a portrayal of the current UK and US party lineup and how it might be transformed. In these speculative What If? Analysis scenarios:

  • The Conservative Party in the UK suffers serious erosion. Many members defect to the Brexit Party (or the Brexit and Conservative Parties forged a new coalition) and some Conservative “Remainers” help swell the ranks of the Liberal Democrats or migrate to one of the smaller parties.
  • The Republican Party in the US splits into three factions: (1) “America Firsters,” (2) “Classic Conservatives,” and (3) “Evangelicals.” Some Republican candidates run as Independents or shift their allegiance to a newly energized Libertarian Party or an increasingly popular Green Party.

Step 2: Suggest key drivers that spurred this dramatic shift in the political landscape:

  • Growing concern over the temperament and competence of the top Conservative and Republican Party leaders.
  • Swelling popular distaste for “politics as usual,” accompanied by the perception that radical change is necessary to make government work again.
  • The perception that the leaders of both parties only care about holding on to power rather than making the government work.
  • A groundswell of support for the environmental movement and the emergence of young, charismatic leaders with innovative policies in other parties.
  • A major shifting of political allegiances as some legislators move to the center and others to the extreme ends of the political spectrum.
  • Increased alarm about deficit spending, income inequality, and massive budget shortfalls.
  • Landslide defeats at the polls for the Conservative and Republican Parties in the next two years followed by irreversible leadership schisms.

Step 3: Identify potential consequences of the key drivers. One consequence of the changes proposed above is that future UK and US leaders will represent parties that command the support of a distinct minority of the voting population.

  • In the UK, Labour would not dominate because internal power struggles had prompted many members to shift allegiances and join other parties. To gain a majority, a party would have to ally with others of roughly similar size to form a winning coalition. Such a transition to a system where four to six parties compete for the right to lead the country would not require major systemic change.
  • In the US, the change would be more disruptive but could be accommodated without requiring legislation or amending the constitution. In this What If? Analysis scenario, the Republican Party would fracture, a more leftist party would split off from the Democratic Party, and a new Centrist Party would emerge that is fiscally conservative but socially liberal, attracting both Republicans and Democrats as well as many younger voters.

In the US presidential race, the Electoral College would function more like a parliamentary system with a handful of parties jockeying to build a winning majority.

A system might even emerge (as originally contemplated by the Founding Fathers) where the candidate of the party with the most Electoral College votes becomes President and the candidate of the party with the second highest number of votes becomes Vice President.

Figure 1

A description of the What If? Analysis technique can be found in the Handbook of Analytic Tools and Techniques, 5th ed. and the 3rd edition of Structured Analytic Techniques for Intelligence Analysis, to be published in January 2020.

Frameworks for Tracking the 2020 US Presidential Election

The US Presidential election is 16 months from now, and trying to predict the outcome is a fool’s task. However, Structured Analytic Techniques (SATs) can help you rise above the cacophony of the pundits and better understand the underlying political dynamics.

SATs can be used to help identify the key drivers most likely to influence, if not determine, how the election campaign will play out. I have incorporated these techniques into a five-step process you can use to help anticipate the likely winner.

  1. Make a list of key assumptions about the race.
  2. Identify which assumptions could be unfounded.
  3. Convert unsupported assumptions into key variables or key drivers.
  4. Track how these key drivers are playing out.
  5. Apply that knowledge to predict the eventual winner.

Using the above process, here is how one could best forecast the outcome of the 2020 presidential election:

Key assumptions can best be described as reflecting the current, common wisdom. In today’s political climate, the analysis offered by most pundits seems to be based on the following set of working assumptions about the race:

  1. The strong US economy is a major factor working in the President’s favor.
  2. Whomever dominates the airwaves is most likely to win.
  3. The President has an extremely loyal base representing over 40 percent of the population that has consistently supported him. They are highly unlikely to change their mind.
  4. As happened in 2016, the coming campaign will focus on “hot button” cultural issues and pay little attention to who is offering the best policy solutions.

All these key assumptions make sense, but it is conceivable some could turn out to be wrong. In fact, some or all these assumptions are better described as key variables. The key assumption could either be validated—and even strengthened—as the campaign plays out, or it could collapse because of changing circumstances or a competitor’s counter strategy. A critical examination of how each key driver could play out reveals:

On the one hand, the economy could remain strong, giving the President a competitive advantage. Consumer confidence could remain high, GDP growth could remain at 3 percent as has been predicted so far by the White House, and the stock market could continue to set new records.

On the other hand, the economy could be at its zenith. Some lead indicators point to a coming recession in 2020, current or newly imposed tariffs could become a major drag on the economy, and instability in the Middle East could prompt a spike in oil and gasoline prices depriving the President of one of his strongest arguments.

On the one hand, the President was—and continues to be—a master at obtaining considerable air time. He continues to show great talent in driving the daily news cycle.

On the other hand, he is no longer “the new kid on the block.” His June 2019 rally kicking off his campaign was not covered live by most networks because it included little new information. The North Carolina rally received coverage because of the “Send Her Back!” chant, but future rallies may be perceived as “same old, same old.” You need to make real news to remain an object of news broadcasts.

On the one hand, polling shows that popular support for the President has consistently varied within a narrow bank of 38 and 45 percent since he was elected. His support within the Republican Party tracks at an almost unprecedentedly high rate of 90 percent.

On the other hand, many of his constituents have suffered as a result of Administration policies, i.e., tariffs that hurt farmers, auto workers, and other manufacturing as well as the policy of separating undocumented children from their parents have created unease among some previous voters. A more serious potential vulnerability is that policy differences within his cabinet and his party (e.g., over new military adventures, racism, or policy toward Iran or Russia) could cause fissures within his coalition and drive some supporters out of his camp or make them less willing to vote.

On the one hand, the President has been a master at focusing campaign rhetoric around “hot button” issues, such as an adversary’s personal, immigration, abortion, and gun control.

On the other hand, by 2020, the population may be more inclined to seek input on how the candidates stand on key policy issues, demanding that more attention be paid to issues that directly impact them, such as health care, climate change/severe weather, income inequality, and gun control.

By tracking these four key drivers, readers can gain an overarching perspective that will help them identify what really matters as upcoming primary and general election campaigns play out. One might also discover that a fifth key driver is missing from the list. Only time will tell. But armed with such a framework, readers will find it easier to separate the true signals of where the campaign is headed from the unrelenting noise.

Read more about key assumptions and techniques in the Handbook of Analytic Tools and Techniques by Randolph H. Pherson (available at

Deepfakes and Digital Disinformation: A Looming Threat

In recent years, democracies have increasingly come under attack by perpetrators of Digital Disinformation, also popularly labeled Fake News. A European Union (EU) study conducted after the recent European Parliament elections showed a consistent trend of malicious activity. Russia, most notably, used fake accounts and bots during the European campaign to amplify divisive content, promote extreme views, and polarize local debates. EU countries that have strong cultures of independent journalism and governments that are actively fighting Russian disinformation campaigns were the most resistant to phony news stories. Other countries lacking these institutional protections, such as Poland and Hungary, were more vulnerable.

A growing concern is a new technology that almost anyone can use to create increasingly convincing—but false—sound clips, videos, and photos. “Deepfakes,” which are media that have been digitally altered through artificial intelligence techniques, pose a major risk for both individuals and democratic institutions. Laymen now can plug a photograph or video clip into prewritten code and produce an extremely realistic, life-like false image or video. Deepfakes are inherently hard to detect and, so far, society is largely ill-equipped to deal with them.

Incentives to post Deepfakes on social media are likely to grow in the coming months as the US presidential election campaign heats up. Digital Disinformation and Deepfakes could also be used in the coming months to enflame passions surrounding such highly divisive issues as abortion, gun control, and immigration because:

•      Massive groups of people can be reached almost instantaneously.

•      The Deepfakes can be micro-targeted, focusing on those most easily swayed and open to persuasion.

•      The perpetrators are rarely held accountable for what is posted.

The perpetrators of Digital Disinformation and Deepfakes appear particularly adept at manipulating perceptions by exploiting common cognitive biases, misapplied heuristics, and intuitive traps. Examples that the Russians and others have leveraged to promote their agendas include:

Confirmation Bias. Social media is a Confirmation Bias “machine.” People are predisposed to accept information that is consistent with the judgments, conclusions, and preferences they have already formed. Perpetrators of Digital Disinformation know how to tailor their messages to reinforce someone’s fears or influence how he or she votes.

Vividness Bias. The objective of much Digital Disinformation is to generate clicks. Clicks lead to increased site traffic, which leads to increased income from ad revenue and donations. The more salacious and outrageous the story, the more clicks are generated. By focusing attention on vivid scenarios, individuals are less likely to pay attention to other possibilities or alternative hypotheses.

Groupthink. Social media creates echo chambers that enable the acceptance of a certain view without challenging it through critical thinking. This is especially easy when one is surrounded by others holding the same opinion.

Anchoring Effect. Once anchored on an assessment, people usually adjust their views as they learn more. But if the initial assessment is highly skewed, even people’s adjusted views will be influenced by first impressions, leading them to make decisions grounded in incorrect or misleading information. People are particularly susceptible to this bias if they are already predisposed to believe a certain idea.

Judging by Emotion. Accepting or rejecting new information because the recipient is predisposed to like or dislike the source is a classic trap that is easily manipulated. Much of the visceral hatred evidenced in political campaigns is likely to be a product of this intuitive trap.

Confusing Correlation with Causality. Many people will easily jump to a conclusion that one variable causes another because they want it to be true or they think that the “connection” proves their beliefs or justifies their positions. This trap is a favorite tool of manipulators of social media.

Ignoring Inconsistent Evidence. When confronted with data that is inconsistent with one’s world view, politics, or deeply-held beliefs, a classic reaction is not to argue the facts but to avoid the discussion. A true metric for success for purveyors of Digital Disinformation is when people believe there is no truth or that real truth is unknowable.

The best antidote for such manipulation is to increase popular consciousness of how vulnerable people are to such behavior modification campaigns and to adopt more deliberate and purposeful thought processes as described by Daniel Kahneman in his book, Thinking Fast and Slow. Structured Analytic Techniques, in particular, are effective in helping people recognize when they are being influenced by disinformation campaigns and in countering their impact. Four especially effective techniques that can help combat the growing scourge of Deepfakes and Digital Disinformation are the Key Assumptions Check, Analysis of Competing Hypotheses, Indicators, and Premortem Analysis with its companion, the Structured Self-Critique.

You can learn more about cognitive biases, misapplied heuristics, and intuitive traps in the Handbook of Analytic Tools and Techniques by Randolph H. Pherson (available at To learn more about our associated training opportunities, including a Strategic Foresight Workshop to be taught in Australia in August 2019, click here.

Is the United States Heading toward Radical Political Change?

Since the surprising result of the 2016 US Presidential election, a fundamental—but often unasked–question is whether the American system of governance will undergo a major transformation in the coming decade. This question was previously addressed in the November 2016 Analytic Insider but, with the approach of the 2020 presidential campaign, now is an appropriate time to review our previous scenarios and determine whether they remain valid.

In the 2016 blog, we used Strategic Foresight Analysis to analyze the US political landscape. The drivers we identified as having played a major role in the 2016 presidential campaign appear to be even more influential today:

  • Increased popular anxiety over social change, the pace of globalization, and introduction of new technologies
  • Decreased trust in institutions and news reporting
  • Heightened focus on personalities rather than issues
  • The impact of big money in the wake of the US Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling
  • The diminished influence of political parties
  • The growing influence of social media as a political mobilization tool

These forces and factors can be represented in large part by two independent spectrums (see graphic below):

  • Who is best positioned to leverage political capital?  Institutions (to include political parties and Congress) or personalities (to include rich candidates and major donors)?
  • How will decisions be made and future conflicts be resolved? Through democratic processes or by more authoritarian means?

Arraying these spectrums on an X and a Y axis enables us to generate four mutually exclusive stories or scenarios represented in each quadrant of the matrix. Each scenario represents a mind-stretching, but plausible, potential trajectory representing how the US political system of governance could change radically in the next ten or more years. Events of the past two years suggest that all four scenarios now are just as—or even more—likely to describe how radical political change could come to US politics:

Established Multi-Party System. Over the past two years, the Republican party has become more divided, potentially splitting into three factions: one based on the personality politics of Trumpism, a more traditional conservative faction, and an evangelical Christian faction. More serious divisions have begun to appear in the Democratic party as well, as Democrats elected to the House of Representatives in 2018 are promoting a more progressive political agenda. Because political parties are not mentioned in the US Constitution, a move from a two-party to a multi-party system would not require a Constitutional Amendment. The Electoral College, however, will certainly come under increased scrutiny now that two Presidential candidates—Al Gore and Hillary Clinton—have won the popular vote but were denied the Presidency in the Electoral College balloting. If multiple national parties emerged, each would have to develop independent political machines and sources of funding, and many longstanding administrative procedures for conducting elections at the state level would be revised. Pressure could emerge to move to a parliamentary system of governance, but the current level of disarray in the UK could be cited as a good reason not to move in that direction.

One Party Rule. If the Republican Party experiences a major defeat in the 2020 elections and becomes a chronic minority party, the Democrats could gain unchallenged control over most political processes and budgets. Mexico offers a good historical example of the downside to such a development when the PRI used to dominate the state. As this scenario develops, the ruling party would become more and more susceptible to corruption, but the populace might prefer a more authoritarian—yet still “democratically” based—approach to today’s increasingly dysfunctional two-party system.

Autocratic Rule. Growing levels of social discomfort and increasing political polarization could open the door for the emergence of an autocrat—be it President Trump or a successor—whom a majority of the population might come to hail as a “political savior” who can impose stability on the system. Such a candidate would tap nativist sentiments, offer simple solutions, undermine or even subvert existing institutions, and create new vehicles for promoting a cult of personality.

Celebrity Democracy. As the influence of political parties wanes, candidates for political office would increasingly be drawn from the ranks of millionaires, celebrities, or charismatic individuals supported by extremely rich donors. Ex-New York City mayor and billionaire Michael Bloomberg and former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, for example, have considered runs for the presidency in 2020. In this scenario, democratic processes would be retained, but political parties would no longer orchestrate who runs for high elective office. Success would be measured mostly by a candidate’s “popularity” as reflected in pre-election polling and his or her approval rating after the election.

A simple analysis of the matrix reveals that the more the key factors of change drive US politics to the top-right corner of the matrix (and away from the bottom-left corner) the healthier the political system. The other two quadrants represent less optimal alternative paths that may not have been previously considered but merit serious exploration. They could emerge as either temporary way stations in a move toward a multi-party system or as stepping stones to an authoritarian or even fascist system of governance.

A common mental mistake is to assume that change is always gradual or incremental. The coming years could prove that wrong!