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Likability wasn’t just a side issue in this research; a whopping 90 percent of women who participated in a 2012 polling said that they had to like a female candidate before they could support her.
Could an unlikable Donald Trump trump a likable Hillary Rodham Clinton for the White House?
Hear me out when I say that it’s possible.
When it comes to the likability factor in politicians, men are from Mars, women are from Venus, and that difference has an impact on electability. Evolving research shows that female candidates almost always have to be perceived as likable to get elected but that men can be jerks and still win their electoral prize. Good news for “the Donald”; bad news for Hillary.We’re a country that’s obsessed with likability — real or imagined — when it comes to our presidential candidates. We wanted to have a beer with George W. Bush. We jumped on board Barack Obama’s “Yes We Can” bandwagon. And on the flip side, Hillary Clinton learned the hard way that one deftly landed smack-down could lead voters to decide that being “likable enough” wouldn’t cut it in the White House.
Ongoing research from the Barbara Lee Family Foundation shows that female candidates can have all the qualifications in the world (you know, like being a U.S. senator, as well as the country’s top diplomat) but without being viewed as charismatic and compassionate, as well as strong and confident, women can kiss their political aspirations goodbye. Likability wasn’t just a side issue in this research; a whopping 90 percent of women who participated in a 2012 polling said that they had to like a female candidate before they could support her.
That’s a pretty difficult political needle to thread.
Was Clinton perceived as a strong candidate in 2008? Yes. Was she experienced enough for the presidency? No question. But one look at the Lee Foundation research explains why once her likability factor landed in the “iffy” category, her campaign was over.
For proof that voters can support the unlikable male candidate, look no further than Trump. He’s been doing an excellent job embracing his inner Grinch with remarks comparing undocumented Mexican immigrants to rapists and saying that Sen. John McCain isn’t a real war hero. No matter the bombast uttered by Trump, he is, for the moment, winning the GOP likability sweepstakes with a double-digit polling lead over the 15 other Republicans in the race. And his ever-growing Twitter account features comments from followers such as “Trump has no problem telling it how it is, isn’t that what everyone has been wanting from a President?” and “If Donald Trump isn’t my president by 2017 I’m gettin’ the h**k outta here.”
Mean may be the new likable for Trump, but if we really are as hung up on this women’s likability thing as the Lee Foundation research suggests, Clinton must navigate between her strong views for the country and showcasing her softer self — like the grandmotherly Hillary who cares about the middle class or the girlfriend Hillary who started her campaign by listening rather than talking — in order to win in 2016.If it turns out that the first female president of the United States must have her girlfriends on speed dial to vouch for her likability bona fides to voters, then I say it’s time for us to step back and ask ourselves why we need a qualified woman to be our perfect girlfriend when we don’t hold men to that same standard of nice.