Friday, July 13, 2012

Obama: The Charisma Factor

As three recent articles point out, in the coming November election, Mitt Romney has a specific problem running against Obama that he might not have against other potential Democratic candidates: the charisma factor.

As teams that have tried to attack Obama before have realized, a key stumbling block in hammering him is that despite a lot ("everything?") people like him. From the attack plan that was going to use Reverend Wright against Obama lamented: "But, they still "like" him."

I suspect the "like" is in quotes not because it is contrasted to Obama's incompetence (so how could you like that!?) but because the authors themselves just see no rational way anyone could actually like him. In their heads, they mean it the way you do when you hit the Facebook LIKE button for someone's sad story to show support ... Obama is getting about 50% of the vote and to the other 50% that's baffling.

It also could be the crucial few percent that determine the election. All things being "equal" (which they never are) presidents tend to get about the share of the vote as their approval rating. For Obama that's around 47%. But Nate Silver notes that in this case (and it's kind of a rare one) the approval rating is lower than the president's favorability rating. That is: more people like him than think he's doing a good job. This could be important:
[It] seems as though the small set of voters who take a favorable view of Mr. Obama but do not approve of his job performance are very much worth fighting over for the campaigns. The split between the two sets of ratings may reflect a sensible enough reaction from voters, who have ample reason to be dissatisfied with the direction of the country, but may be more sympathetic to Mr. Obama as some of the problems began before his tenure.
This is echoed by Peter Beinart who compares Obama to Romney (noting that Bush won the likability war with Kerry and defeated him):
The contrast with Mitt Romney could not be starker. According to the June Pew, while Romney leads on the economy, Obama enjoys a 31 point advantage on “connect[ing] to ordinary Americans.” He leads by 19 points on being “willing to take [an] unpopular stand.” By a 14 point margin, Americans consider him more “honest and truthful.” According to Gallup, Americans deem him more “likeable” by a whopping 17 points.
Conservative pundit Michael Medved draws a sort of reverse conclusion from a similar starting point. He discusses finding an old "Clintonopoly" board game when cleaning out his kid's closet and looking at all the hysterical Clinton-conspiracy material it was based on. He concludes, years later (and from the right) that all that emotional churn was destructive. He thinks that Team Obama's jabs at Romney are similarly destructive:
As always, the electorate will determine whether continuing the current course leads to prosperity and security, or more frustration. Except for already committed partisans to the Democratic cause, they will show less interest in the Romney family road trip with the dog on the roof, or the candidate’s alleged bullying of a high school class-mate, or the purported predations of Bain Capital some 20 years ago. The Obama team shouldn’t require the rediscovery of some forgotten remnant of a scandal-mongering past to reach the recognition that Romneyopoly—like Clintonopoly—is a loser’s game.
What Do I Think?
Charisma is a powerful and dangerous asset because it is so poorly understood. On paper Carter should've trounced Reagan--in person, when they were on stage together? If you were alive and even mildly political at the time you remember what happened. If not, you can read about it. There is no good metric to compare the charismatic appeal of Obama to Ronald Reagan but even Obama's strongest detractors generally agree that he paints a powerful public image.

This creates a sort of "teflon shield" where thrown mud doesn't stick (the public still blames Bush for the economy--something that frustrates Republicans to no end). It makes personal attacks boomerang: Remember that awkward RNC call where the party heads had to kind of gently beg people not to call Obama a Socialist in public because while they had to kind of 'admit' that, you know, 'he totally is' the public--you know--the low information voters--they still like him. And they don't like all that socialist-talk.

So, yeah: Obama has charisma. It might be worth a couple of points in the general and if it is, and Europe doesn't financially collapse that could win it for him.

No comments:

Post a Comment