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It’s Likability, Stupid

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Utahns like George W. Bush, according to a recent Dan Jones poll. They like him 59 percent to Al Gore’s 27 percent. Beyond the fact that he’s a Republican in turf that is solidly GOP, Bush has that regular guy thing going for him—he’s likable.

Nationally, Bush is likable 48 percent to Gore’s 44 percent.

“Likability,” is the key ingredient in campaign 2000—or so we are told by pundits. Not just in the presidential election, but in races for the statehouse and Congress, too. Look at the campaign TV ads by Gov. Mike Leavitt and Sen. Orrin Hatch and even Jim Matheson. Hey, we’re just likable people, the ads seem to say. We’re people you’d like for your neighbor. We’re people you’d like in your ward.

In the information age, the campaigns seem to be all about image—about making voters feel good. Voters, particularly undecided voters, like feeling good, we’re told by pundits—even to the exclusion of issues.

In the likability category, Bush has a big edge on Gore. Of course, Gore is well-versed in the issues and has a solid background in the military, in the House of Representatives, the Senate and as vice president. But he just isn’t as likable as Bush. On TV, Gore looks stiff and he sometimes comes across as a know-it-all. People—particularly undecided voters—don’t like that, pundits say.

While Gore was spending all those years taking care of business, Bush was … well, partying and relaxing watching baseball. He’s had a lot of practice being easygoing. Voters are drawn to that, we’re told.

After the first Bush-Gore debate, it appeared as though Gore had won on points scored during verbal exchanges. But after a week of TV punditry, it became apparent that Gore had lost the debate because he appeared to be a smarty-pants, while Bush, who had trouble spitting out a sentence, was declared the winner because he was more “likable.”

There are, of course, real differences between Bush and Gore: Bush is pro-life; Gore is pro-choice. Bush is in favor of big business; Gore favors better environmental protections. Bush favors tax cuts aimed at the wealthy; Gore favors cuts for middle-income earners.

During the 1992 presidential campaign, Bill Clinton’s advisors hung a banner at campaign headquarters declaring, “It’s the economy, stupid!” to remind everyone what the campaign was about. This year, perhaps Gore’s campaign could do the same with one reading, “It’s likability, stupid!” Because, apparently, there aren’t any issues independent and undecided voters think are germane to the election—according to the pundits, anyway.

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