Like any American who cares about this country, I have a deep interest in the results of this election. But I take a professional interest, as well. I’m always interested in how people make up their minds on how to vote.
I was on the ballot 34 times over the course of my career and have spent a lot of time thinking about why people vote as they do. And I think there’s one key factor that doesn’t get taken as seriously as it should: likability.
We’ve all heard this notion expressed as, “Who’d you rather have a beer with?” This is not frivolous. I’d argue, in fact, that “likability” is actually a complex decision.
We tend, for instance, to like people who are positive, constructive, and forward-looking, and who enunciate or profess a feeling of hope. We also, whether we know it or not, pay attention to authenticity. It’s a favorite word in politics these days, but I think it’s always been the case that we want candidates who give you a sense of a genuine personality undergirding their public persona.
There’s a policy element to all this, as well, in that we like people who have views and values we can relate to and who hold roughly the same goals and interests we do. Which is also why we want our candidates to be reliable and steady in their views.
I think Americans also prefer candidates who display a basic sense of honesty and decency, who possess a strong moral compass, and who show compassion for people who are struggling in their lives. This does not mean we always vote for them — political circumstances or straight-on political calculation can get in the way—but I believe that for most Americans, those qualities matter a great deal.
Campaigning is a matter of going from one group to another— sometimes small, sometimes large—and the question always on your mind is how you appeal to this group or person, and how you make yourself likable to them. In the wake of the election, the winners will be patting themselves on the back for having figured it out. And the losers will be left wondering how they might have behaved differently… and been more likable.
— Lee Hamilton is a senior adviser for the Indiana University Center on Representative Government; a Distinguished Scholar at the IU Hamilton Lugar School of Global and International Studies; and a Professor of Practice at the IU O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs. He was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 34 years.