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The Rationality of the American Voter

Can charisma alone be enough to win an election when faced with a public that is generally ignorant of the political process and the important issues at stake By improving the education of the voter, we can elevate the level of leadership in politics. In the absence of information, a candidate’s charm, likeability, and charisma all contribute to an image that the voter seizes upon to make their electoral decision.
A candidate’s ability to project an image of almost super-human proportions resonates well with a public that is caught in times of crisis. Wars, a bad economy, depreciating social structures, and cultural turmoil all play into the hand of the charismatic leader as voters look for relief from their hardships and despair (Bass &amp. Riggio, 2006, p.64). During these periods of political upheaval, voters are less interested in the issues and more interested in salvation from the looming dire situation. Candidates will take this opportunity to exploit the current situation or negatively characterize the opponent’s alternatives. The 1992 election saw a charismatic Bill Clinton defeat the incumbent George Bush. Bush was characterized as a ‘wimp’ and Clinton was able to capitalize on his charming appeal with the slogan ‘it’s the economy stupid’. Had there been a booming economy, the American voter would have been more reluctant to change and would have been more likely to stay with the stability of the sitting president (Alvarez &amp. Nagler, 1998, p.1362). In addition, Clinton was able to portray the economy in bleaker terms than the voter understood. The slight economic downturn of 1992 was enough to create an opportunity for a charismatic candidate. The education of the voter, as portrayed by the candidate, was less important than the situation that they were caught up in.
When voters are ignorant on the issues, under-informed, and generally politically naive about the electoral process, charisma can be an overriding factor. Media outlets that have a political agenda that they promote often influence voters, but offer limited information. Talk shows, pundits, radio talk show hosts, and pop culture all contribute to an air of confusion and irrationality for the average citizen. It is more likely the case that a voter loyal to a party will may make a decision based on who informed them rather than if they were informed. Therefore, the effect of charisma on the voter will be most heavily felt among the independents that will ultimately decide the election. According to Silva and Costa (2006), "rational ignorance is not to explain the behavior of the entire population of voters, but rather only that of swing voters" (p.39). Widely known figures will emphasize their accomplishments and record, but a relatively unknown challenger may have to rely on image and charisma (Miller, 1990, p.530). Silva and Costa conclude that, "factors like the candidate’s image and charisma may dominate a rigorous evaluation of his performance" (p.40). Often, uneducated voters cannot delineate between the truth and the fiction in political campaign ads. In today’s climate of ideologues, characterizations, and partisanship, charisma can be a deciding factor in a close election.
To rely on charisma alone to carry a candidate to victory is dependent upon a voting public, particularly the independent middle, which is

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