The Trail: A Daily Diary of Campaign 2008


Dan Balz's Take

What Happened to Liking the Candidate You Support?

Giuliani and fans at a restaurant in Oak Park, Illinois. (Reuters).

One of the numbers that leaped out of the new Post-ABC News poll of Iowa voters came on the question of which candidate voters see as honest and trustworthy. On that quality, Republicans in the Hawkeye state don't think much of Rudy Giuliani.

Just 4 percent of likely caucus participants cited the former New York mayor, putting him behind Mike Huckabee, Mitt Romney, Fred Thompson and John McCain. At the same time, 31 percent cited Giuliani as the strongest leader in the field, well ahead of all his rivals except Romney (who was at 30 percent).

By The Numbers

Read more coverage of the latest Washington Post-ABC News Poll

--The Iowa Three-Way Race

--Huckabee Gaining Ground in Iowa

--For Democrats, Iowa Still Up for Grabs

-- More Post poll coverage

A similar though less striking relationship occurred among the Democrats. Hillary Clinton was judged by third of Iowa Democrats to be the strongest leader in the field, but half as many called her the most honest and trustworthy.

The findings seem to raise an obvious question: whatever happened to likeability? When Bill Clinton and George W. Bush were running for president, "likeability" was seen as absolutely critical to a candidate's success. It propelled Clinton past Bush's father in 1992 and gave him a huge advantage over Bob Dole in 1996.

Bush was seen as a more likeable candidate than Al Gore in the disputed election of 2000 and had an even greater edge on that attribute in a 2004 election that was fought on terrain that in many respects favored John Kerry.

This year, Clinton and Giuliani, the two candidates who lead the national polls, get lower ratings on trust and honesty than they do on strength and leadership, and as Mark McKinnon, who did the ads for Bush in 2000 and 2004 and now works for McCain, said Wednesday morning, "You usually don't like people you don't trust."

McKinnon believes something is different now, which doesn't eliminate the importance of a candidate's ability to connect and establish a bond of trust with voters. "There's no question that the equation has changed and the equation has changed because of 9/11," he said. "What that means is that, in presidential elections, it's really not about issues, it's about a constellation of attributes that includes trust, includes shared values, includes strong leadership."

Republican strategist Mike Murphy offered this assessment. "I think likeability is part of the winning mix, but doesn't dominate," he wrote in an email message. "I think people perceive that competence is the important trait right now, so they are willing to take a little less likeability in exchange for a little more cold competence. They're looking for a little less Homer Simpson and a little more Mr. Burns."

Mark Mellman, who was Kerry's pollster in 2004, said other attributes are more important than a candidate's likeability and have been in past elections. "I think likeability is vastly overrated," he wrote. "It is just one dimension of personality to which voters react.

"Bush didn't win in 04 because he was more likeable," he added. "He won because he was seen as more steadfast particularly in fighting terror, which is less relevant today. But it's still not high school. Traits other than likeability are important today and have been in most elections. Strength, leadership, competence, compassion and other personal traits almost always enter into the equation."

In part, what voters may be reflecting is a reaction to what they have seen over the past eight years. Given Bush's low approval rating and the harsh assessments of the administration's competence in managing the war in Iraq and the Katrina aftermath, there's no doubt that voters are looking for more than likeability in their chief executive.

"I think that what voters want in a candidate depends on the voter's verdict on the president in office [and the] state of the nation," Andrew Kohut, who directs the Pew Research Center, wrote in his email response to my question about this. "In this case, people see a failure of leadership in the Bush year, and that's why strong leadership image may be trumping 'likeability.'"

Another Republican strategist, who declined to be identified, agreed that voters appear to have elevated competence over likeability. "You could make the case...," he wrote, "that both Hillary and Rudy generally outdistance their competitors on competence/experience/ability-to-get-the-job-done, etc. Yet Hillary especially is not viewed as especially warm. So what you're essentially seeing is an effort by voters to 'correct' (some might say overcompensate) for the perceived 'flaws' in the current president."

Kohut offered a closing thought for the two national front-runners. Both, he said, have work left to do to assuage voters' concerns about aspects of their personality that might fall under the likeability umbrella: "genuineness for her and volatility for him."

Clinton supporters were quick to note Wednesday the results of a Quinnipiac Poll that showed the New York senator as the Democratic candidate more Americans would like to invite to their Thanksgiving dinner. Giuliani is the favorite among the Republicans. Perhaps that's a reflection of their celebrity status or their overall standing in national polls, but it also suggests that single measures of likeability are not adequate in understanding how voters evaluate the candidates.

Giuliani is selling leadership as his strongest attribute but Katie Levinson, the campaign's communications director, said the former mayor also appeals to voters because they have a sense of a real person. "Voters want someone who is authentic and the real deal -- not someone who is pretending to be something they're not," she wrote.

Whit Ayres, a Republican pollster, said likeability still matters and pointed to Mike Huckabee's rise in Iowa as evidence. He said respect matters more than likeability, but the key to a truly successful presidency is having both. Ayres cited Dwight Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan as three who he believes combined both.

"If you can only have one, respect goes farther in politics, he wrote. "I think that's particular true in a time of national challenge like terrorism, and I think that helps to explain both Giuliani's and Clinton's strength so far."

--Dan Balz

Posted at 1:35 PM ET on Nov 21, 2007  | Category:  Dan Balz's Take
Share This: Technorati talk bubble Technorati | Tag in | Digg This
Previous: Oprah Live From Iowa? | Next: Michigan Set; N.H. to Announce Today

Add 44 to Your Site
Be the first to know when there's a new installment of The Trail. This widget is easy to add to your Web site, and it will update every time there's a new entry on The Trail.
Get This Widget >>


Please email us to report offensive comments.

Hillary is far more likeable then Giuliani, and far more experienced to boot. As for Obama, he may be a nice guy, but he has no experience and no chance against Giuliani, Hillary on the other hand is still beating Giuliani by 2-6 points. This alone proves why she should get the nomination.

Posted by: devin79 | November 23, 2007 4:34 AM

This column is an ongoing embarrassment. Someone should have the decency to pull the plug.

Posted by: zukermand | November 23, 2007 1:09 AM

Regardless of whether you're a Republican, Democrat, or Independent, do you like your candidate of choice?


Posted by: PollM | November 22, 2007 9:06 AM

What candidate would you most likely invite to your Thanksgiving Dinner?


Posted by: PollM | November 22, 2007 8:41 AM

create zionism ?

what is that, some kind of mental illness?

bly me.


Posted by: shivaurazz | November 21, 2007 9:35 PM

The obvious conclusion is that Republic voters don't like their choices. Most Democrats are happy with their choices - pretty much all of them.

Leading one to perceive that the Republicants are in for a world of hurt when the Blue Wave wipes them out.

Posted by: WillSeattle | November 21, 2007 7:38 PM

Blah blah blah! So much talk and so little substance. Who cares who is in the lead right now? Who cares what one guy said to the other guy? The elections are still a year away.
These guys would sell their soul to be President and I once again find myself asking "is this really the best that this great country can produce?"
Oh well

Posted by: dkbeins1 | November 21, 2007 7:08 PM

That Bush is a failure is not news anymore. Even the WaPo's editorial board is reluctantly coming around.

But the disasters of the last 8 years, both domestic and foreign, are the result of some REALLY bad polices. The administration's incompetence only served to make them more deadly.

A competent Guliani dispensing the same bad policy medicine is not a cure for what ails Americans or the global population. We've suffered enough!

Multi-task people! Think policies and competence when electing our next President. We owe it to ourselves and the rest of the world.

Posted by: carole2 | November 21, 2007 6:34 PM

Huckabee supports/believes in creationism?? Ahh man - that's so disappointing - I was really starting to lean towards him as candidate but this ends that.

Posted by: kec132 | November 21, 2007 5:47 PM

Well isn't it about time - look at what liking or 'wuvving' George W. has done for this country - he's made such a horrible mess out of every single issue he's touched on.

So in what way is Rudy different to George W.? None that I see. Well, Rudy might actually be more immature than George. Conservatives supporting Rudy is mond-boggling - he's everything they've hated their entire lives - catholic, pro-abortion, divorced-womanizer, pro-homosexuals with closet colleagues already under indictment. It should also be noted that he made not one single emergency plan in case of another terrorist attack in 1993 - NOT ONE - that's truly poor leadership - talking well on camera is not a qualification to be president.

As for Hillary - being Mrs. President doesn't make her any more qualified to be president than Obama having lived outside USA. Democrats had better wake up - look at the big picture - they need a candidate that's going to win the vote of the country not the vote of just democrats.

Posted by: kec132 | November 21, 2007 5:45 PM

Hell, I voted for the guy 'cause he was the guy I'd most like to have a beer with. Then I found out that the SOB was an alcoholic and COULDN'T have a drink me...sheee...iitt! What what mistake that was. Now he's screwed up the whole dang country AND half the world and I'm sitting here drinking alone. I hope I never make that mistake again!

Posted by: thebobbob | November 21, 2007 5:33 PM

actually sean donaldson,

a lot of posters are pollsters or hired by pollsters....

to generate what the public is supposed to think...

most ordinary AMERICANS are like sheep who follow the belled ram, into the slaughter house...

that would be George W. Bush, down to his intelligence and horns...

Beelz-n-bush....son of the lord of the flies...


Posted by: shivaurazz | November 21, 2007 5:30 PM

most of the anti hillary speaker s are pro

war profiteering,

what do yah think thet means ????

what did the WashingtonINSIDERS aka bushCO und CRONYs want


read PNAC Letter to Clinton, dated 1998.

yah see , George H.W. Bush aka king poppy, wanted to harvest

IRAQ and continue with his game plan....which

Paul Wolfowitz enumerated in Project for a New American [ ISRAELI ] Century...

as taught to them by the Kagans, tried and true friends of Scrotumoundious LIBBY...

erst while friend and purveyor of BJ's in the shyytehouse....along witht he dancing thanksgiving Turnkey

Jeff "I do it all for you," Gannon

SEARCH ON Jeff GAnnon, whitehouse, cheney

for an earful

Posted by: shivaurazz | November 21, 2007 5:25 PM

Huckabee is a likable, normal guy who believes in Creationism. Some wiseguy/wisegal correspondent should ask him if he believes that the Earth is round. Just the guy that our country needs to exercise the ultimate authority over our national science policies and budget.

Posted by: cwh2 | November 21, 2007 5:19 PM

Anyone wanting to see some telling video (with an accompanying column) from Thompson's first week on the trail in South Carolina should give this a try:

Posted by: lanefiller | November 21, 2007 5:13 PM

The US electorate is so partisan right now that I'm not sure both side aren't ignoring both likability and competence for perceived electability.

Posted by: sean_donaldson | November 21, 2007 5:03 PM

The breathtaking incompitance of Bush has started people thinking.

Posted by: TheSage1 | November 21, 2007 5:03 PM

I think you folks are hired by both party's to send a message. Unfortunately for debate I think the message is whatever the party tells you to say. WTF ever happened to free speech -- as opposed to your paid speech -- I'll never blog again because you people are not worth debating.

Posted by: k.vankirk | November 21, 2007 5:02 PM

the gall!

well, remember how you villagers put such primacy on that good ol' fratboy you'd like to have a beer with take the helm of (what was) the most powerful and admired country on the planet. how'd that work out for ya?

hundreds of thousands dead and maimed; a bankrupt country and degraded military; shattered international relationships; wasted years to address the climate change issues and on and on.

competence in a candidate. imagine.

Posted by: mycomment | November 21, 2007 5:02 PM

Hillary has a likeability problem, so now the WashPo asserts dutifully that likeability is irrelevent.

But this conclusion is expressly contradicted by the poll. (I do commend the WashPo for publishing the poll questions and analysis online.)

For example in Question 5 the Dem respondents indicated they support Obama over Hillary 30 to 26%.

Yet in Question 10 (d) Hillary beat Obama 38 to 11% as the "best experienced to be President".

If competence alone was the test, as the article asserts, Hillary would win Question 5- who would you support today.

Instead she loses.

Hillary has a "Jezebel factor" problem in that voters instinctively dislike her and look for a reason later.

An election is simply a contest over who the most people like best.

Posted by: JaxMax | November 21, 2007 4:53 PM

I would like to say something,

competency is the main point in being hired for a job.

The candidates are trying to get hired.

If we held George W. Bush to a test of competency, we would probably find him most competent to be ensconced behind bars in Levinworth.

Using the United States Military as a business development tool...

as PNAC and AEI members say it should be a waste of my taxpaying dollars...

especially if the recipients of the oil theft are simply put

bushCO and CRONYs friends...which happen to include the Petroleum Institute, ExxonMobil, Chevron, Texaco, Shell and BP amongst the better known groups affiliated with working the

snowmachine....for chimpandfrens


Posted by: shivaurazz | November 21, 2007 4:45 PM

OK, call me a selfish, RAT(Again), But I only willing to LIKE a Candidate who SUPPORTS ME!

Supporting ME, means PROTECTING MY FUTURE.

Supporting ME, means Watching out for MY Interests. MY Well-being. MY ability to get AFFORDABLE Medical Care. MY Ability to get MY Children a TOP-NOTCH Education. MY Ability to live in a decent Society.

MY choice for President is Mitt Romney, because HE Has the Clues! Enforce our Labor Laws!

THAT One Thing, will yield beneficial results to EVERYTHING Else, because That ONE THING NOT being Done, has caused so much of the Problems!

Posted by: rat-the | November 21, 2007 4:45 PM

Ron Paul is the only trustworthy politician running.

Posted by: american1 | November 21, 2007 4:43 PM

Like or dis-like it doesn't matter. Over time its about relationships. And this time we want someone with a relationship with reality. He won on fear and fear is not the reality - fear is an emotion.

Give me someone that looks at the world not in terms of "situational awareness" but in terms of "what's going on out there and where do we stand to protect our NATIONAL interests" -- that means they've defined our NATIONAL interests.

Hopefully -- and that's a stretch -- the voting electorate in the upcoming election will stop thinking about who they think they are -- because they aren't -- they might start thinking about how they made a positive difference.

Posted by: k.vankirk | November 21, 2007 4:35 PM

The massaging of the psyche perfected by advertising and marketing has come to dominate political life as well, so that likeability occupies its present inflated status. However, the abysmal incompetence displayed by the moron GW Bush has shocked the public so much as to provide a common-sense correction to its addiction to being soft-messaged and psychologically massaged. So the gradual transformation of the American electorate into superficial, relatively thoughtless consumers has been temporarily derailed.

Posted by: chaszz | November 21, 2007 4:32 PM

I, for one, am sick of that "who would you rather have a beer with" question to determine a candidate.
I know a lot of guys I'd like to have a beer with and not one of them would I vote for as president or anything else.

Posted by: mikel7 | November 21, 2007 4:32 PM

And Ron Paul was ignored by the WaPo. AGAIN.

Posted by: Axana | November 21, 2007 4:29 PM

Another reason we need competent Democrats to bring law and order back to the USA:

Conservatives suck at "the economy":

**The dollar, once a source of strength in uncertain times, also set another record low of slightly above $1.48 against the euro.

"It's getting worse," said Stephen Jen, global head of currency strategy at Morgan Stanley in London. "In reality we know things are getting worse, and expectations of the U.S. economy and the credit markets are getting revised down."**

Posted by: lichtme | November 21, 2007 4:20 PM

How's that "Drinking Buddy Presidency," working out for yall? It's way past time to take away the car keys. Good news is, Bush, with great help from a cast of thousands, has set the republican party back fifty years. There is a God, just not the one republicans can imagine.

Posted by: cfeher | November 21, 2007 4:12 PM

As Like turns to Love so will Dishonesty turn to Votes. The average American will vote for one most like him or herself. This favors Hillary and Rudy.

This has been true for every election from 1980 to 2004.

While we could have a Great American Awakening I'd not bet on it.

Posted by: Maddogg | November 21, 2007 4:11 PM

Anyone interested in what Huckabee is really like face to face should try this funny (but it actually happened) column:

Posted by: lanefiller | November 21, 2007 4:08 PM

Why? Because even the Republicans, after 7 long years with the amiable, gullible, easily led Village Idiot have realized that no one, not ANY one has been served.

Promises made: thousands
Promises kept: zero

Posted by: Va_Lady2007 | November 21, 2007 4:03 PM

If its true, its about time. But after 2004 and the re-election of Bush I think it is giving the American electorate too much credit.

Posted by: JMATT5 | November 21, 2007 4:02 PM

Why on Earth would any sane normal person want a President who would waste the time to drink a beer with them is beyond me. I want the President to spend any drinking time she has, drinking with foreign leaders, the House and Senate Leadership, Sec of *, etc, and not with me, or any other nobody.
I don't care whether I like them or not. You can annoy the hell out of me if you can get the USA out of Iraq without totally trashing the place, or the USA's reputation (likely too late for that last one).
If you can bring Peace in the Middle East, and make the USA Energy Independent (most likely you have to accomplish the second first) you can make my skin crawl, and I will love you for it.

Posted by: Muddy_Buddy_2000 | November 21, 2007 3:55 PM

Well, it's about time that people realize that competence trumps -- apparent -- likeability.

I guess voters have realized that the guy they wanted to have a beer with has turned out to be the most crassly incompetent, abysnally ignorant, stupid, stubborn, and dangerous, president, in the history of the United States.

Americans have finally found their brain. Hallelujah!

Posted by: Gatsby1 | November 21, 2007 3:49 PM

Well NO WONDER folks are looking at competence over likability...
After the last eight years with Puddin'head my guess is that Americans won't make THAT mistake again for quite some time.

Posted by: kase | November 21, 2007 3:39 PM

The comments to this entry are closed.


© 2009 The Washington Post Company