The Upcoming Elections
The response has been both widespread and interesting.
The feedback made it clear that a lot of independent voters understood and appreciated my point, but few traditionally partisan voters fully understood what I was trying to say.
So, I’m going to try this again. Here goes…
Many voters base their vote on the issues. They like the views of one major party and dislike the views of the other.
Or, if they don’t identify with either party, they still listen to the ideas and platforms of each candidate and vote for who they think will do the best job in office—and they determine who “will do the best job” based on the candidate’s stance on important issues.
There is another kind of voter. This second kind of voter had little influence before the Age of the Internet, because the two big parties ran state and national politics.
This has changed in the last few years, mainly because the Internet and various social media have given a real voice to people outside the two big parties and a few editors at major newspapers and television networks.
Today, this second kind of voter has a huge voice.
For the most part, the first kind of voter is still depending on party caucuses, party meetings and party delegates, while the second kind of voter is engaging on-going online debates about political topics that go on 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and doesn’t care if there is a party meeting next month or if it already happened last month.
The first kind of voter elects the candidate he thinks is most right on the issues. The second kind of voter prefers the candidate he considers the most “cool.”
The word “cool” may seem incongruent with political commentary, but it isn’t.
At a recent political rally, I sat quietly on a couch and listened to the people walking past. It was a big crowd, and I wrote a lot of notes as I recorded what various voters said.
“Obama is so cool!” “Ron Paul is so cool!” “Ron Paul is awesome!” “Obama is the worst president ever.” “Ron Paul’s foreign policy is just plain crazy!” “Obama can really sing!” “Yeah, and dance!”
In contrast, I also wrote: “Mitt Romney is our only chance to fix the economy, avoid further downgrading of our credit rating, and re-energize private sector growth.”
These are only a few of the notes I took, but they are indicative of the overall mood.
I wrote something very close to the following at least a dozen times: “Governor Romney is the only candidate with both executive experience and an understanding of private sector business growth.”
But not one person who spoke of a candidate within my earshot said anything remotely like, “Romney is so cool.”
This certainly wasn’t a scientific study or poll.
My notes were entirely anecdotal.
But one theme emerged that I found interesting: the divide between gut-level, emotional comments and those that were clearly cerebral. I went away thinking that if Romney becomes the Republican nominee, he will have to immediately find a way to connect with regular Americans on an emotional, gut level, or he won’t have a chance in the general election.
Again, there are two kinds of voters.
One looks for the “right” candidate who will do the “right” thing on the important issues, the other looks for the candidate who is “awesome,” or “cool.”
Note that this isn’t just a generational difference, nor is the idea that a candidate is “cool” only a shallow, high-schoolish popularity thing.
It actually speaks to something much deeper, something that is perhaps intangible but which Washington insiders wisely refer to as “the leadership thing.”
Pundits on both sides of the aisle frequently discount “the cool thing” as simple and unsophisticated, but only because they tend to be issues voters.
They see elections as choosing the candidate who is the most right on the most issues, as discussed above, and they dismiss “the cool thing” because they tend to believe that all voters are issues voters.
But the second kind of voter is increasingly influential in American politics.
Indeed, in every presidential election in recent times the candidate with “the leadership thing” has won.
Most liberals vote with the Democratic candidate, and most conservatives vote for the Republican candidate.
But there are now more independents than Republicans or Democrats, and a lot of independents are “leadership” voters.
They just want great leadership, not another candidate trying to convince every group that he is
“with them” on the issues.
The more sophisticated of these leadership voters have additional criteria, but the masses go with “the cool thing.”
This is part of the American character, and the majority of these voters cast their votes for the candidate they think most likely to be the best leader.
Note that they define “leadership” as “leadership skills regardless of political leanings,” not as “closest to me on the issues.”
And these voters have quite a record. They supported:
Reagan over Carter
Reagan over Mondale
Bush over Dukakis
Clinton over Bush
Clinton over Dole
Bush over Gore
Bush over Kerry
Obama over McCain
In every case, most liberals voted Democratic and most conservatives voted Republican, but the nation went with leadership over issues.
And in most cases, it wasn’t that one candidate won “the leadership thing” as much as that one candidate lost on leadership.
In short, in every modern election we choose the “cool” candidate, and we define “cool” in ways having little or nothing to do with political views, left or right, liberal or conservative.
You can like this or dislike it, but issues voters need to get one thing very clear: All of these elections were determined by the second type of voter.
Those who want to understand our elections need to realize that while some voters vote on the issues, the deciding swing voters in close elections always go for what politicos call “the leadership thing” and what the masses would more easily understand as “the cool thing.”
And, again, this isn’t immature or shallow.
It’s about a profound, gut-level trust in the potential of great leadership, combined with a deep mistrust of political parties and politicians of every stripe.
Indeed, if you don’t trust what any politicians say, their rhetoric on the issues falls on deaf ears and you have to find some other way to decide who to vote for.
And, frankly, their potential for leadership is an excellent criterion.
I personally tend to be an issues voter, and I think the future of the economy makes the next election a vital concern for all Americans.
But I’m in the minority on this, as are all issues voters.
This election, like most others for the past thirty years, is going to be determined on the basis of how the top candidates project their non-political leadership ability.
I’ve said elsewhere that the most important races of 2012 are the U.S. House and Senatorial elections, and I still hold this view.
The presidential election and a lot of local elections are also important, and all of us can do more to make our influence felt.
On a practical note: If your candidate isn’t very “cool,” if he or she is depending only on the issues to win the election, do your best to help promote their case on the basis of leadership!
The outcome and impact of the upcoming elections depend on it.
Oliver is dedicated to promoting freedom through leadership education. He and his wife Rachel are raising their eight children in Cedar City, Utah.