There are a number of reasons why it makes sense to assume that Donald Trump will not be the next president of the United States. As his often erratic performance over the past year has shown, Donald Trump lacks many of the attributes and talents that are arguably required to perform the job he is currently campaigning for; a lack of knowledge of policy, an inability to speak without resorting to meaningless platitudes and rhetoric, an apparent disregard for the advice and counsel of experts, and a temperament that could be described as fickle at best, all indicate Trump’s unsuitability as a candidate. This is, of course, in addition to the unabashed racism, Islamophobia, and glib attempts to tap into anti-establishment sentiment that have been the hallmarks of his run for office thus far.

Despite all of this, polls continue to show that Trump’s prospects are not quite as bleak as they seem. However, while it is undeniably true that Trump does enjoy a large amount of support, and will also undoubtedly benefit from the more guarded endorsements of Republican voters keen to keep the White House out of the hands of the Democrats, analyses of the polling at this stage (as done by, for example, Nate Silver and his team at FiveThirtyEight) suggests that Clinton remains poised to prevail in November. If and when that happens, at least part of the reason will be the advantage bestowed upon the Clinton campaign by the construction and maintenance of a strong ‘ground game’.

For those unfamiliar with the term, ‘ground game’ here refers to the presence of officials, volunteers, and other operatives, both paid and unpaid, working to promote a particular political campaign at the local level. Put more simply, it is the number of people a campaign has actively working to canvas support for a candidate. Here, Clinton has a huge advantage over Trump; in the fifteen key ‘battleground’ states that will likely determine the outcome of November’s election, Clinton has established 291 field offices while Trump has set up a mere 88. The difference between the two campaigns becomes even starker when considering how the Clinton campaign has hundreds of paid staffers as compared to the few dozen working for Trump.

What many people often do not realise is the extent to which modern election campaigns revolve around the acquisition, analysis, and use of data about the electorate. Paying attention to the ‘ground game’ allows campaigns to collect information about voters at the local level and then use it to increase voter registration, engage in door-to-door canvassing using messaging tailored to individual voters, develop a more personalized link between campaigns and voters, gather information about voter preferences, and ultimately ensure higher turnout for a particular candidate.

Putting together an effective ‘ground game’ is not easy. It requires large amounts of funding and, more importantly, tremendous expertise. Yet, the benefits of investing in it should be self-evident. Thus far, Trump has pointed towards the unconventional nature of his candidacy to suggest the usual rules of political campaigning do not apply to him and, to be fair, there is a measure of truth to this assertion; both his pre-existing fame and the outrageous nature of much of what he says have led to Trump receiving a disproportionate amount of media coverage, facilitating the spread of his message without the need for engaging in the hard work of building a robust campaign apparatus. This has been buttressed by tremendous anti-establishment sentiment within the electorate that Trump has been able to tap into as a self-avowed political outsider. It is precisely due to these factors that Trump was able to win the Republican nomination after trouncing a field full of far more experienced and competent candidates.

However, the general election is a different beast altogether, with Trump having to reach beyond his admittedly energetic base to connect with undecideds, moderates, and disgruntled Democrats. It is here that a campaign entirely reliant on the media, like Trump’s, is likely to be bested by one, like Clinton’s, that has poured considerable time and effort into physically courting potential voters. A lot can change between now and November – Clinton remains a deeply unpopular candidate, and Trump still has time to correct course and plot a more conventional route to victory – but traditional political logic suggests that Clinton’s investment in a strong campaign machine will pay dividends on election day.

There is a lesson here for Pakistan’s political parties. In the status quo, the mainstream parties have tended to adopt electoral strategies that either rely on elite, constituency level politicians to independently mobilize their vote blocs (either through the provision of patronage or the use of economic and social influence) or make use rhetoric and protests to mobilize support for their agenda. What both strategies lack is an appreciation for the ‘ground game’ and the benefits of investing in a strong party machine. For parties that rely on electables, the main cost of ignoring the development of the party’s own capacity is the ceding of decision-making authority and power to politicians heavily invested in the maintenance of the status quo. After all, a party interested in reforming the system would threaten the very things that make such politicians the first place For those that rely on rhetoric, it quickly becomes clear that the attendance of thousands of people at rallies, or the presence of millions of ‘likes’ on Facebook, does not necessarily translate into concrete numbers on polling day. Votes and voters have to be cultivated, and momentary expressions of support through the clicking of a button or participation in a single meeting rarely generate deeper linkages between parties and individuals.

As 2016 comes to a close and Pakistan gears up for a year of campaigning prior to the 2018 elections, the parties in power and those who seek to supplant them would do well to consider the benefits of investing in stronger electoral ‘ground games’. In the absence of such an investment, parties trapped within the status quo will be unlikely to change it, and those hoping to disrupt it will simply be unable to do so.