It’s safe to say that the 2016 election cycle is full of extreme personalities. We asked our three HHS students, representing democratic, moderate, and republican perspectives, to discuss their thoughts on how personality affects voters, and whether extreme personalities are appropriate for a presidential candidate.
According to Gustave Le Bon, a crowd is easily influenced by a strong, apparent leader. This election cycle has been filled with candidates who shout their ideas repeatedly, constantly flooding the news with mistakes they appear to have made in speaking. But the people do not take away their favor- it seems that being brash and going outside the accepted standards of society are a benefit. People are angry and frustrated, and so when they see a strong willed personality promising things will be better, they are excited. The American voting system has a strong weakness in this- which has been researched again and again- most people don’t know enough about the political process and don’t care to know at all. But when potential voters see candidates constantly repeating their views and promising change, no matter how constitutionally impossible it is, people want to believe and so they cast their lot in with the candidate. Everyone knows what Donald Trump’s ideas are, because no one in the news can stop talking about them. He has a strong personality, and when he doesn’t apologize for something insulting or racist, certain areas of the country become more enamored with him. People like to see the idea of a strong American man standing up to society. The idea that the future president must have tact and patience seems to be escaping the minds of many voters this election. Personality, I believe personality is a strong influence on many voters- especially those who typically vote based on their impressions of the candidate as a person. Many people know that every election year Americans take polls about “which candidate they would like to have a beer with”, and this quality seems to be very important to people interviewed. The personality of a candidate has always been important, but this election cycle has demanded a candidate with a strong personality, especially because members of both parties seem to be angry with the establishment and desperate for change.
Of course personality affects how people vote.
From Washington’s austere regality to Jackson’s barbecue campaign tactics to Bill Clinton’s saxophone performance, politicians in our society have long understood that voters tend to go out to the polls to support someone they genuinely like. The candidate needs to establish some level of connection with the folks at home in order to pull them up out of their couches and into those tedious voting lines to cast their ballots. Outgoing personalities can potentially foster the feelings of trust, fondness, and loyalty that draw those potential voters in, that make them interested in the actual message of the candidate.
But that is where the power of personality should stop. It should be used as bait to draw people into the campaign, or perhaps as flavoring, to keep people interested long after the initial kickstart of the election process has passed. However, politicking, in the end, ought to be about actual policies. Electing a representative should come down to believing that whoever you are voting for can affect positive change in some way that you support, or will at least act as the champion of any stances you may hold.
Voting is a privilege and a right that many around the world fight daily to attain, and thus a vote should rightfully be cast in favor of a person whose executive/legislative/judicial agendas you support. Yet so far in the 2016 election, personality, unfortunately, seems to be playing an even bigger role than actual policies and ideas in deciding who wins the nomination.
Donald Trump: a belligerent, crude, offensive billionaire known for his controversial (and often incendiary) rhetoric. Ted Cruz: fully embraces his anti-establishment status and reaches out to the most conservative hearts as a reliable, respectable, hawkish candidate.
Bernie Sanders: passionately blusters about furthering Socialist economic policies (keywords: Wall Street, rigged economy, student loans) in an unpolished, blunt, stubborn manner. Hillary Clinton: distrusted by many, tries to keep her friendly, polished persona alive in an age when all voters seem to want is anything but the middle ground (either politically or personality-wise).
Yet Trump and Sanders, the two outrageous stars of the campaign, appear to be having similar effects on their supporters. Both men have risen out of angry populism, both crest the anti-establishment tidal wave of polarized opinions that stem from fear (of either the outsider or of the future of the economy) and desperation, and both act as a champion for their separate causes. The rise of these two demagogues represents the progression of the ultra-partisan culture in today’s America, where an aura of authenticity and bravado is more valuable than actual plans and ideas, where moderation and intellectual discourse has lost its cool, where personality can become an unchecked force in our democracy.
Policies, politicians, and personalities that foster compromise and cooperation are apparently out of style, and I can only hope that the volatility of this election period reminds voters that policy, not personality, should motivate the ballot.
A bold personality is a very good political tool, especially in this time period. A candidate like Donald Trump is using his loud and bombastic persona to take votes from the far right and the moderate left to win the primaries across the country. This attitude and the anger of the people from almost two decades of bad presidents has led the population to believe in a character like Trump. Despite a lack of substance in his speeches and debates, he still manages to gain more support of the people. This is in stark contrast of someone like the soft-spoken Ben Carson, who has dropped out of the race. If Carson was louder and more commanding of the audience, he would have much more support from conservatives than he does now. Since he is not as big as Trump both in presence and personality, the people have rallied behind Trump as the best candidate for the president. Trump’s wild attacks on other candidates like Rubio and Bush have also helped him greatly. If any president were to talk like he did, many world leaders would fear the United States more than they do now. This is another large part of why he has so much support from the left and the right. Other countries see the U.S. as a weakening country, and a tough talking president like Trump would be able to make this country respected again. So far it seems like Trump cannot be stopped and will continue to shout down any opposition.