“Going Casual” Pays Off for Presidential Candidates

COMMENTARY | Politicians and candidates for office use all sorts of tactics to persuade and engage voters. The techniques of “going negative” to tear down your opponent in a campaign or “going public” for a policy initiative to get the people on your side are well-established. But what about “going casual”? Americans like to see their politicians be real people. Part of the appeal of George W. Bush was that he was a president that you could have a beer with. Bill Clinton’s legendary saxophone performance on “The Arsenio Hall Show” helped him unseat the incumbent and heavy favorite George H. W. Bush. Richard Nixon, as a candidate in 1968, appeared on the sketch comedy show “Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In.” It is a tactic employed by sitting presidents and candidates for all offices that comes out of FDR’s Fireside Chats and continued by President Obama with his appearances on “The Late Show” and “The View.”

On top of that, the success of political satire television programs like “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report” have popularized politics, making the average Comedy Central viewer more informed. Say what you will about the bias inherent in the programs or the lack of serious thought given to the issues at hand, it is undeniable that Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert have raised the overall political awareness of their viewers. The popularity of these two shows have resulted in a number of candidates appearing on the show during their candidacy and receiving a bump in their polling numbers because of it. This includes John McCain, Joe Biden, Barack Obama, Ron Paul, John Kerry and Hillary Clinton.

However, the appearance and subsequent alleged “Colbert bump” that fascinated me most was that of Mike Huckabee in the 2008 nomination process. Huckabee spent much of his campaign on the soft-news circuit, covering “The Colbert Report”, “Real Time with Bill Maher,” “Hardball with Chris Matthews” and “Hannity & Colmes” among others. Huckabee’s media exposure explosion, the revelation that he plays in a rock band and the realization that he holds somewhat progressive views on energy, immigration, and tax reform increased his appeal for me. While I did not end up supporting Huckabee, “going casual” definitely made me take a second look at the former Arkansas governor. And I am very likely not in the minority there. Candidates presenting the lighter side of themselves is a win-win situation for all.

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