Does Personality Make or Break a Presidential Election?


Emily Stewart

With the fall season of Republican television debates behind us, some may find it surprising—even astonishing—that Donald Trump and his fiery personality lead the polls for the Republican Presidential Nomination, according to an average of various polling groups by Real Clear Politics. Indeed, the more mainstream, establishment-type of candidates trail Donald Trump and even Ben Carson—who is now in second place—by a substantial amount. Jeb Bush, perhaps seen as the epitomical establishment candidate, is so far behind in the polls that the current data begs an important question. Does personality and strong force of voice have an effect on a candidate’s likelihood of securing the presidency? Or do these polls that show a definite preference for the candidates with the aggressive personality platform have minor predictive force for the actual outcome of the presidential race? According to data and an over-emphasis upon television performance during the early season of presidential campaigning, I argue that personality is not a predictive factor for winning the presidency.

The recent campaign performance of Jeb Bush has thrown the above-mentioned question regarding personality and the chances of presidential election success into the limelight. Indeed, the New York Times articulately describes the rather lackluster rally and television persona of Jeb Bush—perhaps a “safer” choice as compared to the more vibrantly aggressive Trump and Carson without political experience—as compared to the obvious leaders of the Republican nomination polls: “His sober competence seems no match for the wild rhetorical excesses of Donald J. Trump, or for the base-stirring fervor of Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, whose Iowa rallies this week drew larger, more enthusiastic crowds than Mr. Bush attracted.” Indeed, many may lament Jeb Bush’s underwhelming television and stage performance as not indicative at all of his future success, for perhaps television presence is a poor predictor of actual political leadership capability. Still, the American public obviously has reacted to the aggressive personalities of Trump and Carson, according to the Real Clear Politics poll averages as mentioned above. Still, will these polls that seem to favor the strong personalities have predictive power for the winner of the election? According to a few different sources of data, there is no real likelihood that simply possessing strong personality is a sure factor that will lead to presidential success. While the data cited below by a Yale professor quoted in the Los Angeles Times corresponds to general presidential election results and not the outcome of the respective party nominations, the accuracy of the data indicates that policy platform may be more indicative of presidential election success than mere personality: “Given an economic forecast, I can make a prediction at any time—I don’t even need to know who’s running.” Furthermore, according to Sides of “The Monkey Cage” blog, early polls such as these almost a full year from the general election are completely ineffective in predicting the presidential winner. Both the data concerning general election success’s correlation with economic trends and the poor predictive power of polls suggests that personality is not the main determinant of a candidate’s electoral success. Maybe Jeb does have a chance after all.

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