Submitted by Martin Westerman (1/15/2020)
Who is the Democrats’ “It” candidate for 2020? – the one who can beat the R’s “It,” DJ Trump? “It” is charisma, and if you’ve got “It,” said author Elinor Glyn in 1927, “you win all men if you are a woman and all women if you are a man.” “It” combines physical, mental, and personal attraction, and something more, and they say you’ve either you’ve got itor you don’t.
But wait: research says you can learn It. Humans unconsciously gravitate toward a leader they can trust to represent their hopes and dreams, where membership in his or her group helps them feel safe and protected. Author David Aberbach lays it out in Charisma in Politics, Religion and the Media. Once in the group, people tend to hold back their emotions, to show deference and acknowledge the leader’s superior status. Cambridge University’s Jochen Menges calls this the “awestruck effect.” It’s tribal. It’s safe as long as you pledge allegiance to the group; dangerous if you don’t, or if you’re outside of It. In TrumpWorld, outsiders include minority groups, immigrants, opposing politicians, the news media, and “liberals.”
But a candidate can learn and use the elements of charisma, says Univ. of Lausanne professor John Antonakis. (“The Anatomy of Charisma,” Nautilus, Feb. 16, 2017). He calls them Charismatic Leadership Tactics (CLTs), and says they’ve helped decide eight of the last 10 presidential elections. Charisma isn’t a divine, supernatural, superhuman, or exceptional power. “The more individuals use charismatic leadership tactics – metaphors, storytelling, open posture, animated gestures – the more others see them as leader-like.”
Appearance is important. Princeton psychologist Alexander Todorov showed side by side photos of competing congressional candidates to individuals, and asked them to rate candidate competence based on their appearance. Based on their snap judgments, the interviewees predicted the winning candidate almost 70% of the time. (“Inferences of Competence from Faces Predict Election Outcomes,” Science, June 10, 2005)
Our snap judgments are emotional, connected to fight-or-flight responses in the brain’s amygdala.. Even without meeting a person, we appear hard-wired to quickly decide if a person has likeability and competence traits that we feel are important, Todorov said.
But Nobel Prize psychologist Daniel Kahneman found the brain has two parallel decision circuits – the fast intuitive (in the amygdala), and the slower rational (in the prefrontal cortex). The rational system can override the intuitive, when we analyze our snap judgments.
So looks are important, charisma grabs us emotionally, we need to trust our leaders will speak and act for us, and protect and keep us safe. We can rationally overcome our snap judgments and subconscious fears. And we can learn from our mistakes.
There’s the roadmap for every political campaign. Now, who is the D’s “It” candidate?