Now that we’re entering another mid-term election cycle perhaps it’s time to reflect on the factors that really determine why we elect people to high state and national public offices. If one looks back over the last several presidential and gubernatorial elections, what have been the predominate qualities that have seemed to determine the outcomes? Has it consistently been the election of the person most qualified to do the job? No, that seldom appears to have been the case.
On both sides of the political aisle, other factors besides experience for the job seem to have swayed the electorate. Starting with the election of John F. Kennedy in 1960, let’s look at some of the qualities that typically win elections. Jack Kennedy was handsome, and well-spoken, and he could command the attention of an audience. Kennedy was obviously qualified for the job of being president having served in both the House and the Senate, but he won primarily on the basis of his sophisticated stage presence, good looks, and, in his case, the good fortune of having a beautiful wife. In other words, millions of people, women in particular, voted for Jack Kennedy because he had movie star good looks.
On the other side of the political fence, we have Ronald Reagan, a former two-term Governor of California, but, more importantly, a candidate who had extensive training and experience as an actor. He defeated incumbent President Jimmy Cater in 1980. Reagan’s experience as Governor of California qualified him for the presidency, but his “stage presence,” more than anything else, gave him a decided edge over President Carter who was a quiet and drab sort of fellow by comparison. Stated another way, Ronald Reagan looked and acted presidential, thanks to his acting experience. Of equal importance was Reagan’s ability to think on his feet and field questions from the Washington press corps with style and studied eloquence. He also had what has been described as rugged good looks. His qualifications for the job really didn’t matter to most voters.