When it comes to elections, does being likable make you winnable? President Obama will have the opportunity to put this to the test.
With the two political parties’ conventions over, it appears that the president has been able to capitalize on last week’s performance in Charlotte and increase his lead over Mitt Romney in the national polls. The Democratic based is fired up, and overall, a majority of voters think Obama paints a more optimistic picture for the country’s future than his Republican opponent.
The more positive, upbeat and likable approach of the Obama campaign seems to be working. Some of the most recent examples of the Democrats’ friendlier face include VP Joe Biden’s cozy sit down with a group of bikers, and the moment the president was lifted off the ground—literally—by a hulking pizza shop owner in Fort Pierce, Florida.
Then there was Obama’s lighthearted birther humor during an encounter with a boy in Orlando who was born in Hawaii. “You were born in Hawaii?” the president asked, adding: “You have a birth certificate?”
Much is said of the importance of likability in presidential elections. That blueblood patrician George W. Bush had those everyday, regular type of guy qualities — the kind of candidate you’d want to sit down and have a beer with — which reportedly helped him in his contests against the comparatively stiff and wooden Al Gore and John Kerry. The Supreme Court may have helped Bush even more against Gore, a subject for a separate discussion.
Conventional wisdom suggests that a bad economy portends bad things for an incumbent president. The recent August jobs report shows the economy is still stuck in neutral, with official unemployment slightly above 8 percent. Unofficially, we know it is much higher. The middle class has contracted a great deal over the past decade and lost much of its net worth, as a record number of people are plunged into poverty and relying on food stamps. Among the common folk, blame for the economic mess is assigned to various actors, including Wall Street, to the policies of President Bush, and ultimately to President Obama himself.
And yet, despite the economic uncertainty, a post-convention Obama is increasing his lead both in battleground swing states and nationally. It’s gotta be the positive message, and the lack of one on the other side.
Conservative radio host Laura Ingraham seems to agree. “If you can’t beat Barack Obama with this record, then shut down the party,” said Ingraham. “Shut it down, start new, with new people because this is a give-me election, or at least it should be.”
“If I’m hiring messaging people — I’m finding out for instance who did the original GEICO gecko commercial?” she said. “Because that guy or gal who did actually knows how to brand something,” she added.
At the convention, Obama benefited from an upbeat convention with strong, effective and moving speeches from first lady Michelle Obama and President Clinton that helped seal the deal for the president. The members of the crowd—not merely the roster of speakers at the podium– was diverse like America. This election season is all about political theater, to be sure, but the Democrats have been able to capture a sense of honesty in their game. And people know when you’re faking it.