The 1st Law of Politics: Perception is Reality
Posted by: McQ
on Thursday, July 13, 2006
At least to voters. And as Lois Romano notes in the Washington Post today, Hillary Clinton is confronting that law as she "unofficially" positions herself for a run for the presidency in '08.
The perception she's fighting?
"I think she's a little hard," she said. "She may be strong, but at the same time, if you're driven sometimes you're perceived as not having sympathy. And perception is reality for most of us."As Romano says, Clinton's assets are major. But she also notes that while her assets are formidable, difficult liabilities remain which have to be addressed and, at least, neutered if Clinton is to stand a chance in a national race:
Beneath these positives, however, there is evidence of unease — about her personal history, demeanor and motives — among the very Democratic and independent voters she would need to win the presidency.You don't have read through the blogosphere long to find hit pieces on Clinton, from both the left and the right. For many on the left, she suffers from a "Lieberman problem", her support for the war. For the right, well, the reasons are legion. And that is why, when you look at poll numbers measuring positives and negatives, they end up, percentage wise, fairly even.
But her battle for votes is to be found on the left and in the center. And, at the moment, those numbers, while giving her good marks also are discouraging because of the "perception" thing:
A recent Washington Post-ABC News poll highlighted the paradox. Fifty-four percent of those responding view her favorably, and a significant majority give her high marks for leadership (68 percent), strong family values (65 percent), and being open and friendly (58 percent). At the same time, only 37 percent of Democrats in the poll say they would definitely vote for her for president.This is her Achilles heel. Unlike her husband, Clinton doesn't do well relationally with voters. The perception they share of her aloofness and coolness isn't new. It has been the public Hillary Clinton since she first burst on the national scene during Bill's run for the presidency. And she's done little, to this point, to change that perception.
A Gallup poll from last summer also highlighted a perception that she is too divisive, with 53 percent of respondents saying they do not view her as someone who would "unite the country and not divide it."
Follow-up interviews with skeptical Democrats and independents who participated in the Post-ABC News poll suggest that many view her as an inscrutable public figure who gets high marks for her ability and intellect but who nonetheless gives them pause because they find it difficult to relate to her on a personal level.
"The reason I am not able to say I am strongly supportive of her is because — and this is just vibes — she does not project a sense of what is inside of her like her husband did," said Sam Hack, 59, a self-described liberal Democrat from St. Louis.As we've mentioned many times, '08, in political terms, is a long way off. Clinton has pretty successfully reframed herself politically, at least for now (once an opposing candidate gets ahold of her, it will be interesting how long the veneer lasts). But this perception of her persona may be a much more difficult task than reframing her politically.
Others said they see a persona too calibrated. "There's no question she's competent and very intelligent, but people want to see authentic human beings, and she has overly managed herself," said Peter Brooks, 68, a professor of English at the University of Virginia and a liberal Democrat who has an unfavorable view of Clinton.
That brings us to the 2nd law of politics as articulated by Rhodes Cook:
"All things being equal, style trumps substance in many ways," he said.And it is this Clinton's style, unlike her husband's, which is a detriment instead of an asset.
A Clinton candidacy will turn the right out as no other candidate could, regardless of whether "Bush fatigue" or disgust with Republicans in general is evident or not.
Unless she and her staff can figure out how to present her as a more personal and less aloof and calculating persona, Hillary Clinton is, at best, a 48% candidate in a national election.