Trust is the ever elusive brass ring in political campaigns. Any candidate who can gain an electorate’s trust is tough to beat. But how does a candidate do that when voters have low opinions of politicians from both parties?
Traditionally, candidates try to “talk straight”, “speak honestly” or “fake sincerity” to the best of their ability. But these days, it takes more than words. We are way too visual a society for words to convince us of something.
It takes images and pictures that convey trust, such as parents hugging children, friends laughing, colleagues shaking hands, etc. But politicians are way past that. Visuals like kissing babies and shaking hands don’t cut it in this cynical, post-Watergate, post-Lewinksy, post-Foley, post-Spitzer, post.....you get the picture, world.
You have to look the part. When you speak with someone you look right at them, not around them to see who else is in the room. You convey trust by committing yourself to connecting personally with every person you meet or talk to through the TV or speak to at a rally.
That is the edge Barack Obama had in all three debates. He didn’t always have better answers or quips or one-liners. But he was always calm, always measured, always focused. He never made faces or rolled his eyes, acted bored or angry. He seemed poised and in control even when facing the firing squad.
In short, he looked presidential. He soothed voter’s fears that perhaps he wasn’t ready for the job by looking at McCain, and then the audience, with a steady gaze throughout tough questioning. He never flinched, he never winced, he always appeared in charge. And that conveyed trust. And that is a big reason why he is well on his way to the White House.
Liz Chadderdon is president of the Chadderdon Group, a Democratic direct mail firm