Philosophical Multicore

Sometimes controversial, sometimes fallacious, sometimes thought-provoking, and always fun.

Article of the Day: It’s Charisma, Stupid

Posted by Michael Dickens on March 1, 2010

Yet another Paul Graham essay.

In this episode, Graham proposes that the factor in getting Presidents elected is not their policies, but their charisma.

As I looked further back, I kept finding the same pattern. Pundits said Carter beat Ford because the country distrusted the Republicans after Watergate. And yet it also happened that Carter was famous for his big grin and folksy ways, and Ford for being a boring klutz. Four years later, pundits said the country had lurched to the right. But Reagan, a former actor, also happened to be even more charismatic than Carter (whose grin was somewhat less cheery after four stressful years in office). In 1984 the charisma gap between Reagan and Mondale was like that between Clinton and Dole, with similar results. The first George Bush managed to win in 1988, though he would later be vanquished by one of the most charismatic presidents ever, because in 1988 he was up against the notoriously uncharismatic Michael Dukakis.

This is an interesting point. Also, though, it is worth noting that charisma cannot be the only factor. In terms of popular vote, elections are not often won by more than 10%, and the widest margin ever recorded was 26% (source). People sometimes disagree on who is charismatic, but in general people will agree. Therefore the entire election cannot be based on charisma. Graham is not saying that it is; rather, he is saying that it is the deciding factor. I agree. Perhaps 70-90% of the vote is based on policy; only the other 10-30% is based on charisma. But on policy, the country is quite evenly split. Because of this, the relatively small percentage of the vote that is based on charisma is still enough to affect the outcome of the election.

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