By Rachel Fritz
At our second seminar hosted by the Washington Center, we discussed the importance of a candidate’s image during the 2016 presidential election. Lara Brown, the director of the graduate program of political management at George Washington University, delved into why Hillary Clinton was not elected president and why Donald Trump was. Throughout this topic, it has been evident that the American public has an idea of what qualifies someone to be president – and Hillary Clinton was not the person for the job. This seminar exposed how Trump played to his key strengths and appealed to what the American voters wanted. This idea reinforces that the image and character of candidates matters during the election.
Leading up to the 2016 election, Hillary Clinton’s favorability rating had dropped from 56% to 49%. In her lecture, Brown attributed Clinton’s loss to her emphasis on her role as a mother. The problem with this is the public doesn’t perceive the president of the United States to be a mother. When one thinks of a mother, they typically think of someone who is caring and compassionate. On the other hand, most Americans see a president as a strong military veteran, an analytical lawyer, or a powerful businessman, not a mother. In the reading, Sex, Gender, and the US Presidency: Ready for a Female President? by Gary Powell, a survey was conducted that showed most Americans found their ideal president as more similar to a male than a female. The idea that a president is not perceived as a mother also has something to do with the fact that we have never had a woman as president.
In the reading, Why Hillary Clinton Lost? Kamarck explains that Clinton was good at making friends in government and making sure things were done. However, the presidential election system that we have in the United States gives little to no say in the nomination of these individuals to the people who actually care about those qualities. Contrarily, in other places around the world, we have seen a significant number of women take office. In a parliamentary system, the party leader is usually chosen by peers, so therefore Brown asserts that women usually rise at higher rates in these systems. Accordingly, the United States is ranked 104th in women’s representation in government compared to other countries.
Former White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer offeredc insight into why Clinton lost the election. He simply put it that she is not likable, nor did she try to connect with her party’s base. A study conducted by scientists at Princeton University recruited a group of individuals to assess the competency of Democratic and Republican candidates. They found that candidates that were more competent-looking won 69% of the gubernatorial races and 72% of the Senate races. Therefore, this study found that individuals will judge candidates on far more than just their policies, including competency and emotions. Therefore, it is no surprise that during the 2016 election, Clinton focused more on policy than emotions, which ultimately would cost her the race.
During today’s seminar, Spicer elaborated on why Donald Trump won the presidential nomination and eventually the presidency. First and foremost, it goes back to the start of his campaign and his slogan “Make America Great Again.” When individuals reflect on the 2016 election, most can tell you that Trump focused on building a wall that would essentially coincide with his slogan to “Make America Great Again.” However, when you asked individuals what Hillary’s slogan and the main purpose of her campaign, most people could not tell you. Therefore, this set Trump up for success because what he wanted to do as president was clearly expressed. Trump also made citizens feel something when he talked about controversial topics like the wall and immigration policy. This not only showed his determination for office but also how dedicated he was. The editor-in-chief at The Hill, Bob Cusack, said he believes Donald Trump won the election because he gave press time for interviews. Through this, he gained additional time in the media and boosted his reputation, ultimately leading to his win. It is quite simple: The more time you give to media outlets, the more time you appear in the media for voters to see and be influenced. Cusack talked about an experience he had with Trump where he was promised only 15 minutes and ended up getting over an hour to interview him. Ultimately, Trump’s love of attention from the media helped him win the presidency and the Republican primary.
Lastly, when Obama’s administration came to an end, citizens were seeking something different, and that is exactly what they got with Donald Trump. He is not a politician, but a businessman. He knows how to play the media and get the spotlight with his rhetoric. Essentially, the 2016 election taught us that anything can happen. Americans find image and personality just as, or even more, important than policy when it comes to electing a president. Citizens have to like the person before they will vote for them. With that being said, Hillary Clinton’s biggest downfall was that she was more concerned with policy-making, and less concerned with coming off likable and transparent with goals for the future.