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The Charisma Theory

I wish with all my heart that this theory had failed during the most recent election, but unfortunately it held true. A year or two ago it occurred to me that the more charismatic presidential candidate often wins. But once I started thinking about it further, I realized that the theory was true for every election (with the possible exception of 1988, which was a tossup in terms of the candidates' charisma) since 1976:

1976: Carter over Ford
1980: Reagan over Carter
1984: Reagan over Mondale
1988: Bush over Dukakis
1992: Clinton over Bush
1996: Clinton over Dole
2000: Bush over Gore
2004: Bush over Kerry
2008: Obama over McCain
2012: Obama over Romney
2016: Trump over Clinton

Being ignorant of politics prior to 1976, I can't really weigh in on earlier elections. But this trend (though it may just be a fluke) over the past forty years makes me wonder how much charisma, personality, likability etc. (even more so than a candidate's experience and policy positions) influences voters - especially moderate/independent voters who usually end up being the group that decides elections. Something to ponder, at least.

January 20, 2017 in Current Affairs | Permalink


I’m afraid your theory holds. Dukakis was badly damaged by the film clip in which he was riding in a tank, and by the despicable Willie Horton television ad. Bush’s patrician ways carried more weight back then, I’d say.

How would you see the charisma factor in a Sanders-Trump contest?

Posted by: Michael Leddy at Jan 21, 2017 7:21:05 PM

I'd call Sanders-Trump even, with maybe a slight edge to Bernie. Which might have been enough to win, though in general I don't think America is ready for a president as far left as Bernie. Bernie could have beaten Trump, but not a moderate.

Posted by: Pete at Jan 22, 2017 11:18:11 AM