Several people who read It's Charisma,
Stupid have asked what I mean by charisma.
After all, if I'm only saying that people vote for the
candidate they like, I'm not saying much. So I want to
emphasize that I'm talking about something that could
be predicted well in advance of the election-- indeed,
something that can generally be predicted from political
Before an election there is usually little disagreement
about which candidate is more charismatic.
change if charisma starts to be perceived as the key to
winning.) In this past election,
even Kerry's supporters worried about his
Or think of Gore, who was so
that it seemed
to him the best plan to make a joke of it.
If political cartoons portray your candidate as stupid or
unprincipled, you have nothing to worry about.
But once they portray him as boring,
you're in trouble.
While it's generally easy to say which candidate has more charisma,
it's a little harder to say what charisma consists of.
Off the top of my head, I'd say that one has to be
confident, cheerful, and outgoing. But especially outgoing.
I suspect the key to charisma is to like people.
All politicians smile when they're working a
crowd, but the really charismatic ones don't have to
remember to smile. Their smiles are genuine, because
they're enjoying themselves. If you look at photographs
of Clinton in a crowd, time and again you see him stretching
way out to reach people's hands--- often over his own
Secret Service agents, like a basketball player stretching
to block a shot. And he's not merely smiling. He's
ecstatic. Working a crowd is not a duty for him; it's
the part he likes.
Kennedy was the same way. He couldn't bear to be alone. He had aides
whose main job was just to be available so that he never had to.
Why should liking people make you charismatic? Because
if you like someone, they'll like you. And vice versa.
Imagine you had two acquaintances, one who had a reputation
as a great guy but for some reason clearly disliked you,
and another who was generally considered worthless, but
thought the world of you. Which would you be more inclined
to do a favor for?
Expand this to people in general, and it's called charisma.
If you like people, people will like you. And so if
you happen to have an insatiable craving for human contact,
you'll tend to be charismatic, just as if you happen to be
eight feet tall you'll tend to make a good basketball
Uncharismatic politicians smile so that people will like them.
Charismatic ones smile because they like people.