FLORENCE GILKESON: Appealing to Voters Is Downright Tricky
Despite our high-minded talk about issues and platforms, the average American voter doesn't really give a flip about a candidate's views on the "issues."
If they're not dyed-in-the-wool Republicans or Democrats, most voters will pick the candidate with a favorite position on a key subject (or issue, if you prefer that word).
The key subject is the one that touches them most closely at the moment they think about voting. It may be the economy, medical insurance, education, immigration or the war in Iraq. As I write this, the major concern seems to be the price of gasoline.
The rest of the voters are going to make a decision based on the latest judgment error.
If I were giving advice, I would tell candidates to be smart but not overly intellectual.
If you really are intellectual, don't try to hide it but don't make a display of your erudition.
It's wise to know how many houses you own, but please don't quote Socrates, Copernicus, or Milton. And if you feel compelled to cite La Rochefoucauld, it's best to say you picked it up on the Internet or found it in the newspaper's Cryptoquote puzzle.
Candidates should be "of the people" -- but, please, not so much that you appear common. It's OK to walk out into the cornfield to make a speech, but try to avoid chewing tobacco or dipping snuff. We don't like that.
You should be good-humored and witty, but not so witty that you appear smart-alecky. You need the gift for spouting a funny line, using the appropriate cadence.
Make it short, please. It's the same timing that worked for Bob Hope and the Smothers Brothers.
Oh, yes -- you must be of the faith, preferably Christian, or some faith that branched out from Christianity.
But don't be too religious or too Christian. Despite what folks calling themselves evangelicals today are saying, most voters feel a mite uncomfortable around candidates who talk with too much fervor about their religious faith.
They want you to believe in God, but not so much that you would seek a Christian answer to the dilemmas the nation's leader faces daily.
And, as both John McCain and Barack Obama have learned by now, try very hard to keep your distance from any really loud, vociferous preacher with controversial views.
Tradition has it that modern Americans will not vote for a candidate who wears a bowtie. My brother-in-law used to wear a bowtie, and I thought he looked pretty neat.
But he never ran for public office, and besides, he quit wearing any kind of tie a long time ago.
Also on the subject of wearing apparel, we might as well discuss this business of going without a suit jacket. I notice that both Obama and McCain frequently campaign in shirtsleeves.
This is good. Voters like that. It shows their humanness, it shows they are interested in meeting people and in rolling up their sleeves and getting to work.
But too much informality won't work.
Jeans are OK, but stay away from overalls, tie-dyed shorts and flip-flops.
It's not good form to tell a male candidate how to advise his wife about her clothing. But I guess I can do it.
Wives should be stylish and emphasize their physical attributes, but not too much. Clothing should be simple but elegant. Show too much decolletage, and women won't vote for your husband.
Avoid frumpy outfits, or the men won't vote for your husband. (Exceptions to this prevailed up until the election of John F. Kennedy. Prior to that, first ladies were the picture of frumpiness -- Eleanor Roosevelt, Bess Truman, Mamie Eisenhower.)
On the other hand, perhaps I err on this point. Some men like women's clothing best if they think it didn't cost too much.
But that may not apply to other men's wives.
To my knowledge, pollsters have never asked potential voters questions reflecting any of these prejudices.
I don't find the polls especially helpful anyway, and I know personally that many people being polled lie in their answers.
I always decline to be surveyed.
I also know that voters have used one or more of the above silly suggestions as at least an overt reason for voting for or against a candidate.
Few people will come right out and say openly that they won't vote for Obama because he's black or won't vote for McCain because of his age.
Voters turned down two interesting candidates who were both witty and
intellectual -- Democrat Adlai Stevenson and Republican Bob Dole.
Jimmy Carter is probably the only honest-to-goodness devout Christian to serve in the White House in my lifetime, and voters rejected him on his second try for office.
Not only did Carter stick to his Baptist background and attend worship services every Sunday, he also continued to teach Sunday School.
Maybe it's a good thing that no one asks me for campaign advice.
Florence Gilkeson can be reached at 947-4962 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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