Today’s successful politicians are more about celebrity than sound policy, with edgy personalities winning our votes
Politicians can no longer simply be competent in their jobs or represent the political aspirations of the public. They need a more ambiguous quality: the capacity to be defined by the public through one word or a single personality trait — something that personifies them and separates their breed of politics from other more conventional politicians.
The outgoing Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, is such an example. The eccentric, dogmatic and larger-than-life figure. This method of asserting one’s personality was extremely successful for Johnson, helping him to win two consecutive terms and to unseat the long-serving mayor, Ken Livingston. Johnson had captured the minds of the public and the media, who believe he is the most likely candidate to become prime minister after David Cameron.
The importance of personality cannot be underestimated; in the age of new media individuals can comment instantly on Facebook and Twitter which allows politicians to build their brand of politics. However, personality politics can have its draw backs. For instance, many speculate that the failure of David Miliband to win the general election was down to his inability to assert himself as a competent, charismatic personality, so desirable in politics. In comparison, David Cameron was viewed as a politician with the skills and experience needed to be the leader of the country.
In the US, personality politics is more important than ever, especially due to the gruelling presidential campaign lasting two years. President Obama and Donald Trump have one notable similarity; they have both pursued personality campaigns. During his campaign, Obama insisted that under his leadership America could repair the legacy of the Bush years and spread hope under the slogan, ‘Yes we can.’ On the other hand, Trump has utilized fear politics insisting that only he, the ‘outsider’, can protect ordinary Americans and bring economic prosperity once again by coining the phrase, ‘Make America Great Again.’ Such tactics fuel hope for ordinary American citizens. Bernie Sanders is another politician who has been successful, largely due to his ‘David vs Goliath’ image or the single politician holding Wall Street accountable.
Hillary Clinton is the presumed Democratic nominee, she however has failed to create a personality campaign that can enthuse voters to come out and support her. If she wishes to become president she must develop her brand of personality, which will motivate supporters to vote on election day.
Personality politics has an ambiguous character. On the plus side it can encourage many disenfranchised people to become involved in politics, raising the profile of problems not addressed by more conventional politicians. However, personality politics has a dark edge, raising mistrust and fear. The personality factor is important for voters to relate to the candidate, but it should not trump a person’s pragmatic ability and skills needed to work in office.