How important is likeability for a presidential candidate?

I don’t know how many Bookwormroom readers follow American Idol, but the American Idol crowd is all abuzz at the voting out of Pia Toscano last night. Ms. Toscano has an amazing voice, probably the best of all of the candidates. Nearly everyone is shocked that she is gone. I’m not. She may have been the best vocally, but she was the least likeable of all of the candidates. She may have just been uncomfortable on the big stage, but she always looked a bit stiff, like she held herself aloof from the other candidates.  Obviously, likeability is a huge factor when people pick up their phones to vote for an Idol.

One would think the same would hold true for politicians.  And, I suppose, most of our presidents in recent years have been likeable — Ike, JFK, Reagan, Clinton, Bush II, Bush I in later years, though he was very stiff at first.  But how does one account for presidents like Nixon, Carter and Obama who don’t appear to have a warm, likeable bone in their bodies? 

More significantly, looking forward to 2012, how important is likeability for the candidates who will be running then, and which candidates hold the edge (and which are at a disadvantage) in this regard?

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  • kali

    Genuine likeability stems from how much you, in turn, like other people. It’s a trait you can only fake for a short while, possibly long enough to get elected.

  • jj

    It has been observed – by any number of commentators – that the American people do not elect leaders they don’t like.  I would imagine that’s probably true, and obviously a sufficiency of them liked Nixon, Carter, and Obama to get it done.  I never saw much likable about those three, or, for that matter Lyndon Johnson, who was pure slob – but enough did to vote for them.  (I suspect in the case of Nixon he may have also been the beneficiary of a sympathy vote, based on the fact that every adult – a qualification that leaves out democrats –  in the country knew the presidency had been stolen from him by the Kennedy gang.)
    Clinton is probably the exemplar of the extreme: a completely lousy human being who managed to pass himself off as a likable fellow, even capable of emitting a bit of charm.  At least enough to get women, of whom he was a routine abuser, to vote for him.  (Keep in mind that in his five runs for office – three for governor, two for the presidency – he managed to win the male vote exactly one time: in his first run for governor.  So he was capable of of at least some level of smarmy charm – at least enough to fool women.  Once men got a look at him – never again.)
    Obama, oddly, benefited from that fact that 90% of the country had no idea who he was.  That’s usually a disqualification.  When combined with his total lack of experience in doing anything at all, it should have been an automatic disqualification, and nobody outside his immediate family should have voted for him.  The country also has a history of not liking people who’ve never run anything – we overwhelmingly choose governors, generals, VPs – people who’ve run something.  People whose only experience is congress or the senate rarely win – the last time there were two of them in a row they gave us the Civil War, which was entered into by the third in the skein, Lincoln, whose only experience was a term in congress, and who never ran anything either.  (So much for eloquence.)  That experience pretty much soured the American people on electing candidates with no background.  (There have only been five – Obama’s the fifth – who never ran anything to get to the white house since.  And 20 governors, generals, and VPs.   And one guy who rebuilt Europe after WWI – and was widely recognized as having indeed run something.)
    But Obama had two great assets – neither of which was likability.  He was running against a RINO nobody liked, or outside of Arizona likes to this day; and he’s black.  And McCain made absolutely certain no one on his “campaign” would actually do any campaigning, and call Obama out or criticize him on any aspect of his complete inexperience to run so much as lemonade stand – because he’s black.  As Limbaugh has said, any room Obama walks in to, he will be the least accomplished person in the room.  But you can’t say that, you’ll be called a racist.
    So I think Obama’s probably an anomaly.  If he were not black, he’d still be in the Illinois state senate voting “present.”  The fact that America seems to have felt it was time for a minority president may have been more of a historical wave than anything else; it certainly had nothing to do with his ability or even likability – he rates a zero on both counts.
    As a general rule, I think it’s true that Americans don’t elect leaders they don’t like.  We’re probably living through the exception that’ll turn out to prove the rule.

  • David Foster

    I think it probably matters less whether a voter *likes* a particular candidate than whether he *identifies with * that candidate…..for example, I’m sure many professors swooned when Obama pronounced Pakistan as “pahk..eee..stahn” (presumably the correct pronunciation) because the fact that he took the trouble to do that was viewed as making him an “intellectual”..just like them!
    Similarly, there are probably quite a few businesspeople who would support Trump, despite his fairly high jerkiness quotient, because he is in some remote sense *like them*.

  • Charles Martel

    I think Obama’s election was America’s last convulsive act of racism. I call it Losse racism, after Helen Losse, the self-hating white woman who used to visit us here. Losse racism pretends to be based on the hand-wringing idea that non-blacks owe blacks some sort of reparation for slavery and Jim Crow. 

    What better reparation than to elevate a dark-skinned man to the presidency no matter how unqualified he is? That lack of concern, and elevation of form over substance, is the racist part. Helen and many of the other whites who voted for Obama were closet racists because they could not bring themselves to question Obama’s total lack of experience. To have done so would have been, of course, “racist,” and they did not seriously think, after years of seeing the fruits of affirmative action, that the black population could produce anybody better.

    There was also the element of pat-ourselves-on-the-backism. Like Helen, who was always congratulating herself for her enlightenment, many whites who voted for Obama did so to reassure themselves that they were big-hearted, post-racial non-racists.

    In 2012, the GOP candidate will win if he/she relentlessly exposes Obama’s lies and manipulations. We can recycle the old Reagan mantra, “Are you better off now than you were four years ago?” Of course the Dems will answer by trying to blame Bush. If the GOP candidate is a woman, she can win the election simply by asking, “Barack, when are you going to man up?”


    The fact that you raised the question against the backdrop of American Idol is disturbing. It really points out that the entire process of electability has to be staged for success. The question to any discerning voter should be the same one we all should be asking when we need a specialist for medical problems:
    Do we want a smooth talking non-committal promising everything, anything, who can also play the sax or basketball or do we want a surgeon that understands the human body, understands what diagnostic tests need to be done so he/she can cut, remove or suggest another mode to cure the patient and relieve the symptoms.  We all already know about the ‘pretend’ doctors – they’re the ones that leave the patient in worse shape, tattooed in strange places or DOA.

  • Charles Martel

    Back to Idol, I think DQ was right about Pia—great voice, kind of a DOA delivery. My hope is that J Lo will mentor her because I think the girl could have a great career.

    But her being voted off does speak to something that concerns me. Idol is a popularity contest, not a talent contest. I have to keep reminding myself of that as clearly talented contestants like Pia start dropping. The eventual winner will be a non-threatening boy whom the tween voters can bring in with their automated phone calls.

    Obama won election on popularity, not talent, and his suuporters were the electoral equivalent of tweens—people who rely on image and emotion, and who can project onto a bland (as well as blank) slate. I don’t know that you can reason with people who reject reason so thoroughly and are, in general, very ill-educated. Our approach in 2012 will have to be more visceral, using strong images to deconstruct Obama. Maybe throw in a little Jon Stewart/Leibowitz-style snark to get the children used to the idea that it’s OK to giggle when the emperor shows up nekkid.

  • suek

    I don’t watch Idol, so have no opinion on the lady just voted off.
    I’m considering Herman Cain.  He’s a solid conservative, and he’s black.  That takes the race issue off the table. (although apparently on one occasion, he was called “racist” for criticizing Obama while broadcasting as a talk show host on his radio show!)  I think the race issue is the trump card that the Dems are sure to play in the next election, and it’s a really tough one.  No matter what a conservative says, the answer is always wrong.  If we elected a truly conservative black into office, the race question would disappear – because the Dems wouldn’t consider him to be _really_ black…just a person with that skin color.  Which of course, is what we want.  Skin color should be irrelevant.
    Cain also has a pretty impressive background, although no real political experience.
    I’m also saying I don’t particularly like any of the other names bandied about.  Good thing we have lots of time!


    The ‘race’ issue will always be on the table.  According to the Progressive Handbook for Candidates: Only ‘they’ can choose, who is black, black enough, not too black, looks clean, speaks with a nice voice……..
    OTOH, I wouldn’t mind watching Mr. Cain slay Mr. un-Able!

  • Charles Martel

    The other thing that Cain has going for him is that he’s really black. Not half-black like Obama, but fully black. Since the Democrats live by the fiction that skin color measures something useful, it would make sense that Cain’s greater quantitative blackness would make him the superior black man.

    Oh, wait. The same Democrats who passed laws saying you were a Negro if you had 1/32 African-American blood are also the gatekeepers who can say a man with 100 percent African-American ancestry is not black if he believes the wrong things.

    Never mind!

  • Ymarsakar

    Helen Losse infamous wrote here before that she considers herself to be black.

  • Oldflyer

    I don’t know the answer.
    I believe that demonstrated competence will play a larger role this time.

  • Ymarsakar

    That experience pretty much soured the American people on electing candidates with no background.

    People are not thinking in such a complicated fashion.

    The difference between a Senator and a Governor is the appearance of strength and the absence of voting records that can be used to hamstring the candidate. Appearance, not necessarily reality. It is only necessary to make it appear that the person in question is a leader, is decisive, and has made influential decisions. While a Senator is easily made out to be indecisive, a compromiser of his own principles, and bought and paid for stooge of power brokers in DC.
    The voter population doesn’t “have experience”, whether individually or in aggregate. None of their experience with previous candidates are likely to inform their next ballot decision. While there are many who converted philosophically and ideologically due to voting for or against the Reagans, the great majority are those who have never switched their inherited political party. For any reason whatsoever.

    People with no background are automatically at a disadvantage because they don’t have the political grassroots or campaign experience/system to get their message out. Thus a requirement of some office experience is necessary just to make their name heard amongst the people. The people will vote in predictable fashion after that point, based upon some tried and tested factors. I don’t see experience as a big factor in the decision making process for voters. Voters place much higher importance on the appearance of strength, decision, and power. They will vote for the power. In Obama, they saw the power of Light and the power of someone able to lower the sea levels. That’s power, to them. Experience, or no experience, only matters if it can be made to make a candidate seem more powerful or less powerful. IN Obama, it made him seem more powerful to a significant majority of voters. And the supermajority of blacks and jews.


    The super majority of black and Jews is no more than 13% and 2% respectively – what the hell were the other 85% thinking?

  • Ymarsakar

    what the hell were the other 85% thinking?

    20% are chaotic, greedy, extremist violent anarchists and Leftist revolutionaries.

    50%-70% are useful idiots. You can leave out the “useful” part. They do all the time. That leaves 30% as either lower circle initiatives that were brought into the fold to act as slave overseers over the masses or the higher upper echelon elites, like the Academic Losse poet, who have something economic or spiritual to gain from Leftist slavery and racketeering, extortion, violence, intimidation, money laundering, and so on. 

    In terms of money, the 30%-10% of elites have most of the money. They filter down to the revolutionaries through avenues such as trust funds, Soros, or government largesse. Sherry Sherrod, for example, can be considered one of the elites. Those that benefit financially/socially/spiritually from oppressing the weak of America.

    Of course, like any pyramid, the vast majority of money and power are vested within the hands of the political class, the Senate class as the Romans would have called it. Those would be the Kennedy clan, the Kerry clan, the Clinton clan, and the Obama clan now. A lot of clans, a lot of tribalism, nothing has changed. Even as everything has changed around us technologically and socially.

    The Leftist cannon fodder, the great majority of them voted for Obama. Those would be Book’s husband or Martel’s wife. They do not benefit directly from the party structure. They are too powerless and too lacking in influence or investment of time.

    Then there are those like Ayers who went from a dog of the revolution to a kleptocratic, megalomaniacal, serial killer sociopath of an elite member in good standing amongst the Leftist alliance. Not a lot of social mobility amongst the Left. But I guess Ayers found out it was just a little bit too dangerous playing the role of the cannon fodder revolutionary. You can actually die ,rather than kill a bunch of wives and children. Islamic jihadists, you see, don’t have that issue. They got plenty of cannon fodder eager to die.

    So if you ask me what the hell were the 85% of the people who voted for Obama in 2008 thinking, that would be my answer.  The extremists, 20%, were thinking “It’s time to make them suffer for daring to challenge our power and magnificence (of course they are too stupid to even be aware of such a long word)”. The cannon fodder were thinking “Obama is smart, that means if I vote for him, I’m smart too”. The elitists were thinking, “I got money rolling in from the hills, time to vote Obama for more free cash”.


    May be it just gets down to the best slogan. Ymar, refers to the 50-70% of idiots. I call them vegetarian voters – they never want to hear the ‘meat of it’ and keep ordering a tossed salad with the dressing on the side that they can add as much or as little as they can tolerate.
    Forgive me, I’ve linked a wiki page with slogans from the four corners of the earth. I think it should/could? spark a few suggestions for 2012.


    Btw…while the Feds are still open for business, so are the progressives and unfettered by having to choose a candidate for 2012, they are very busy this weekend shoring up any and all frayed edges. They will not go gently into the night and will dig up the bones of ancestors if necessary to bury the GOP candidate.

  • Ymarsakar
  • Ymarsakar


    Comment in moderation, reposting this link about  Identifying crims by face to face contact

  • Mike Devx

    Nixon, Carter and Obama all ran when the prior President was of the opposite party, and that President was very unpopular and who each had a big politically unpopular issue turning voters against them, and their party.

    Nixon:  Ran following LBJ, who was linked to the Vietnam War
    Carter: Ran against Ford, following Watergate and the Nixon pardon
    Obama: Ran following Bush, who was linked to the Iraq War

    A hugely unpopular political issue is probably the only thing that trumps likeability and trust.

  • Ymarsakar

    Most of them of them were uncontested as well. Nixon resigned, LBJ refused to run for another term, and Bush was at his term limits.

  • Charles

    I don’t watch American Idol or any other such show; But, I must agree with Sadie on this: “The fact that you raised the question against the backdrop of American Idol is disturbing.”

    Yes, this is so true – so many voters go with a “gut feeling” not really sure why they vote for someone or else they seem to go with a “litmus test” such as this candidate is pro or anti-abortion when abortion is something that a mayor or governor or congressman really doesn’t have much to do with. 

    This gut feeling or litmus test decision for voting seems to be more among those who call themselves liberal rather than those who identify with conservative values (although, I would make abortion an exception on the conservative side).  I guess this gut feeling or litmus test method is easier than trying to figure out if a candidate will actually be able to do the job; that would involve actually reading up on the candidates and require thinking.  So, yea, “likeability” is a key factor; but, with much more serious consequences than voting for fifth-grade class president.

    Here’s another voting factor which seems really scary to me; although it doesn’t seem to affect presidential elections (at least I hope it doesn’t play a part). Here in NJ, for school board elections candidates names are NOT arranged alphabetically on the ballot, they are placed in order by a “drawing of straws” to see who will be listed first. 

    The reason for this is that when many voters see “vote for three” and there are 5 or 6 candidates listed; most voters, not being informed enough to decide whom to vote for, tend to vote for the first three! It doesn’t seem to dawn on most folks that you don’t HAVE to vote for three; as for myself, if I am only sure of two of the candidates I will vote for only those two; but most voters will vote for three even if they don’t know who the candidates are. So, it never fails that if you are lucky to be placed at the top of the list on the ballot you will win. Is it any wonder that we have such problems with our schools and government when voters are that ignorant!?

  • Ymarsakar

    It is not that voters are that ignorant. It is that their government masters are so much more savy at the Game then they. If it was a matter of equals, it would be different.

  • jj

    Yes it is.  The American voter is the most ignorant avatar of voting on the planet.  You can’t find 3 in a thousand who can name all nine Justices, and you can’t find 1 in 10,000 who knows which president of which party and political philosophy nominated more than two of them.  The American voter is a DOPE!

  • Danny Lemieux

    I propose that voters elect Presidents that fit the moods of the times. 

    Strong presidents such as Eisenhower, Nixon,  Reagan and Bush II were strong men that were elected when Americans felt threatened.

    Carter and Obama were elected at a time when Americans were sick of war, demoralized and wanted to indulge in feeling good about themselves (Carter was “not Nixon” and Obama was the “un-Bush”). Americans wanted mediocre personae, they got them! 

    LBJ was elected to provide continuity after Kennedy and Bush I was elected to provide continuity after Reagan. Clinton was elected for his personality. 

    It may be that, in the next election, enough Americans will be aware of and concerned about our economic and fiscal crisis that they will elect a “take charge” person of courage that can demonstrate that they understand the economy and how to fix it. In this category, I put Pawlenty, Daniels, Christie, Cain and Trump. They all convey courage and a “take charge” persona. I know enough personally about Herman Cain to know that he is totally results oriented. However, neither Cain nor Trump have any experience with politics. 

    Michelle Bachmann may well qualify herself in this category as well, but she needs to further promote her economic credentials (note, she has run a business before) and she does tend to convey an aura of being a partisan attack dog. Ditto for Sarah Palin – although I personally admire her executive credentials, her political instincts, and believe her to have the courage and other qualities needed to be an exceptional President. I am not sure that Palin has found the right platform upon which to convey those qualities, yet. However, despite these qualifiers, I believe that either Palin or Bachmann would make excellent American Maggie Thatchers.

    Although all very impressive individuals, Newt belongs in a university, Huckabee comes across as “Mr. Rogers” and Romney should reenter the business world.

    Times are tough and are going to be tougher. The American electorate may yet surprise us.


    Obama was the “un-Bush”
    Good point. It certainly explains why there is little to no reporting of the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is no coincidence that the president personifies the definition of a drone and uses them frequently not just in Afghanistan, but domestically in the form of unions and his circle of czars.

    A male bee, especially a honeybee, that is characteristically stingless, performs no work, and produces no honey. Its only function is to mate with the queen bee.
    An idle person who lives off others; a loafer.

  • Danny Lemieux

    “A male bee, especially a honeybee, that is characteristically stingless, performs no work, and produces no honey. Its only function is to mate with the queen bee.”

    Good description of Obama. By “queen bee”, did you mean Michelle or George Soros?

  • Ymarsakar

    Ignorance is not a uniquely American trait. Nor is it an explanation for tyranny or unstable political systems.

    At best, it is a red herring designed to distract people from the real root cause of political factionalism in the US.


    Since you asked..
    NBeeC, ABeeC, CBeeS, MSNBeeC  :)

  • Ymarsakar

    Need bee killer spray

  • Charles

    “NBeeC, ABeeC, CBeeS, MSNBeeC”

    Well, one thing’s for certain – those aren’t “African” killer bees.

  • Charles Martel

    Buzz off, Punstrix.