Thursday, March 8, 2012

Mitt Romney's Presidential Campaign and Flip Flops

The funny thing about Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign is that it appears to have gathered pace after the escalation of negative attacks on him. Of course, the two prominent attacks have been the entertaining Rombo ad which was put out by Rick Santorum and, the infamous $10,000 bet that you can see above with Rick Perry in a presidential debate.

Now what do these things have in common?

Mitt Romney’s Flip Flops

Previously, most of the negative campaigning had focused on Romney’s flip flops. Frankly, I think this is the best approach. However, what these ads do is detract from the previous campaign. In fact, they help to give Romney an image of competence and a tighter definition of his character.

Looking at the $10,000 bet, it comes across as being crass, arrogant and insensitive. Many Americans are suffering financially and, wealthy politicians (not least from a private equity background) throwing around large wagers doesn’t sit well with many voters.  It also suggests he would be alienated from the daily problems of the majority.

However, it does convey an air of confidence and more importantly, competency. He comes out of it looking like a man who, albeit arrogantly, backs up what he believes. Whither the flip flop image?

Similarly, the Santorum Rombo video portrays Romney as a kind of political serial killer. Here is the Rombo video ad...

Unfortunately, for Santorum, this ad backfires because it defines Romney as a focused and concerted individual. Definitively not a flip flopper! Similarly, its light hearted vein attaches an image of comedy to one of the negative charges against Romney. This detracts from the seriousness of what voters may have been thinking about Romney. As for Santorum, it is a tad hypocritical to be putting out a negative campaigning ad that complains about someone else’s negative campaigning!

Santorum’s videos may help shore up his support and, those who think he has the moral high ground but I suspect the floating voters and the ‘undecided’ vote (who always decide elections) are disposed to view all politicians as mud slinging charlatans. They just vote for the least bad candidate.

Mitt Romney’s Presidential Campaign

These shifts in attack on Romney have helped portray him, rightly or wrongly, as competent. And an appearance of competency matters. It matters a lot.
The key issue in the presidential election will be the economy and, this should play to Romney’s strengths. Moreover, the US public appears to want deficit reduction and growth. To accuse Romney of being a flip flopper on these issues is a powerful charge, but to portray him as being insensitive doesn’t matter so much, as long as he comes across as capable and competent.

Note that one word keeps coming up here and, there is a reason for this. I’m rather taken with the work of Alex Todorov and, how facial expression influences our judgment of a person.

How We Judge Presidential Candidates

When I write ‘we’ I do not mean the reader of this blog. If you are reading this, you are likely to be a discerning individual who is taking the time and interest to look into political matters. You are highly unlikely to be a floating voter who is politically uninformed. Nor do you make political decisions based on an amorphous viewpoint that is adjusted by an ongoing mental agglomeration of a series of sound bites on television.  I suspect that elections are decided by the latter.

Indeed, the work of Todorov, according to Daniel Kahneman in ‘Thinking, fast and slow’ is that in the US

This result was confirmed in many other countries. Notably, competence was a far better predicator than likeability. Voters are seen as combining an image of strength and trustworthiness to formulate an opinion on competency. And ultimately, it is competency that counts to the kind of floating voter that will decide the US presidential election.
‘70% of the races for senator, congressman, and governor, the election winner was the candidate whose face had earned a higher rating of competence’

Romney’s opponents are doing him a favor!   


Kahneman, Daniel  'Thinking, fast and slow' , Penguin Group 2011

No comments:

Post a Comment