Personality in Politics
by Julia Weaver '09
On November 4th, close to 100,000 people looked on in Grant Park, Chicago as President-elect Barack Obama spoke about his landmark victory. While the 2008 election has proven to be a racial, generational and historical milestone for United States, many people have started to wonder how much Obama's personality played into his victory. As history shows, personality and politics have gone hand and hand for generations. From Andrew Jackson's frontiersman-like persona, to Ronald Reagan's movie star appeal, to Hillary Clinton's stoic self-confidence, the way a candidate is perceived apart from their policies is a huge factor in an election's outcome. In Obama's case, many would argue that his personality overshadowed his policies. "Obama has that swagger. Something about him makes you relate to him more and makes you like him more," said Nika Grant '11.
Throughout his presidential campaign, Barack Obama's dynamic personality captivated audiences and political analysts alike. In a November 5th interview with television journalist Charlie Rose, Newsweek's Jon Meacham referred to Obama's dynamic stage presence and the people who buy into it as part of a "slightly creepy cult of personality." What Meacham meant by this observation was much of the hype surrounding Obama pertained more to his personality rather than his policies. Likewise, many would argue that McCain's personality, along with his challenge of appealing to a more conservative Republican audience, contributed to his loss. With the question of personality and politics in mind, The Stampede wanted to find out how students felt about Obama's victory, how personality plays into politics, and how being introduced to different personalities during the school's debates affected their overall opinion of McCain and Obama.
The school's mock election, following the debates, predicted Obama would win 77% of the vote. While many of the students interviewed reported they cast their vote for Obama, most of them admitted they felt Barack Obama's personality played into his victory both nationally and schoolwide more so than his politics. "Obama was always calm. That helped us see him more as president because no one wants an over emotional president," said Cynthia Washington '09.
Senior Alex Powell took a slightly different approach when he discussed how McCain's personality led to his defeat. "When McCain ran in 2000, he was more liberal, but when he ran in 2008, he changed his outlook to appeal to right wing conservatives. If he had stayed true to himself, he would have been more successful." Lauren Pickering '10 disagreed with the idea that the real McCain's personality is problematic, "I don't think his personality is the problem, people just like Obama and his ideas more."
Students' reaction to the mock debates, presented by Mr. Pozniak's Current Events class, further cemented the claims that McCain and Obama's personalities played into their perspective victories. When asked what she thought of Sen. McCain after witnessing senior Preston Stoney's portrayal of him, Cynthia replied, "Preston was much more charismatic than John McCain. McCain didn't get people excited about the election... Preston would have." Lauren Bell '10 replied, "Preston's youth and energy drew people towards him as John McCain."
With Obama and McCain's personalities contributing so much to the election's outcome, the way campaigns are run, in general, could change drastically. Personality's affect on politics seems to be inevitable, but as seen in our mock elections, the way a candidate markets himself or herself could dramatically alter public opinion. As best described by Jon Meacham, politicians like Obama are stand-alone brands. Much of their success comes from how they market themselves towards their customers, or in our case, the American people. And in good politics, like in business, the customer is king.
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