So when you read about the alleged wisdom of this “dream team” it’s all fairly obvious. It’s marketing—techniques well known to corporations and such. The difference between the two campaigns is that the president’s men and women really used that knowledge to motivate the consumers or “voters” to really buy him as a product.

The old tension was between COMPETENCE and IDEOLOGY. Democratic competence vs. Republican ideology (remember Reagan!).

This time, in the minds of the social psychologists, it was between COMPETENCE and WARMTH. Romney’s economic competence as a successful business man had to be countered by the president’s warmth. Ideology recedes from view. So, of course, does another old distinction between COMPETENCE and CHARACTER, one that NIXON and CLINTON and GINGRICH (and now PETRAEUS) so clearly bring to our minds. That might be because compared to the men I just mentioned both Obama and Romney are men of character.

Listen to what the studies show:

For example, Dr. Fiske’s research has shown that when deciding on a candidate, people generally focus on two elements: competence and warmth. “A candidate wants to make sure to score high on both dimensions,” Dr. Fiske said in an interview. “You can’t just run on the idea that everyone wants to have a beer with you; some people care a whole lot about competence.”

Mr. Romney was recognized as a competent businessman, polling found. But he was often portrayed in opposition ads as distant, unable to relate to the problems of ordinary people.

Although I would guess that neither candidate ranks that high on the have-a-beer-with meter, Obama must score higher. He has been seen having beers with others. Not Romney. It might actually be a serious point that Romney never gave voters anything on the “I want to hang out with you” front. His relationship with ordinary people is “all business.”

So Romney didn’t convince enough people that he would use his competence FOR them—that is, for the 47%, for the middle class, for union members, to get you out of your student loans, etc.

But warmth or compassion really does imply IDEOLOGY. It implies a “public philosophy” about government and especially your president having your back, bailing you out when you need it, protecting your safety nets etc. Romney needed to be better on the having-your-back meter. He really did mean to be.

Romney thought that, in his case, that some combination of competence and character would inspire trust. But we don’t readily associate character with business success (especially since 2008). And Romney wasn’t all that “out there” on either the source of or content of his character.

The irony, of course, is that effective marketing is at the core of the competence of a successful businessman. The president and his dream team were excellent salesmen and saleswomen.

Articles by Peter Lawler

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