Barack Obama: The Most Charismatic Candidate Always Wins

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on November 7, 2012 – 11:01 AM

CNN went on the air in 1980, ushering in the era of the 24/7 media age.

For the past 32 years, Americans have gotten to know their presidential candidates better than ever before, with the hopefuls on their television screens seemingly non-stop.

There have been nine presidential elections in the age of around-the-clock media, and one thing has remained true in all nine: the more charismatic candidate has always won. 

Photo credit: Win McNamee of Getty Images

Consider these nine elections:

  1. In 1980, the more charismatic Ronald Reagan defeated dour incumbent Jimmy Carter.
  2. In 1984, Reagan crushed Walter Mondale.
  3. In 1988, George H.W. Bush—never accused of being the most charismatic man in the room—defeated an even less charismatic Michael Dukakis.
  4. In 1992, the super-charismatic Bill Clinton defeated the more patrician George H.W. Bush. He was re-elected in 1996 by beating Bob Dole, a candidate fond of asking crankily, “Where’s the outrage?”
  5. In 2000, George W. Bush defeated Al Gore. Although that election was contested, I’d argue that Bush’s edge in charisma allowed the race to be that close in the first place. And in 2004, Bush won re-election by beating the more patrician John Kerry.
  6. In 2008, Barack Obama beat John McCain, who almost defined the word “cranky.” And in last night’s Election 2012, Obama won re-election by beating the less charismatic—and yes, more patrician—Mitt Romney.

The last time I posted an analysis of this sort, another pundit complained that my analysis was superficial since “N=8.” In other words, he argued that eight points of data weren’t enough from which to form any conclusions.

With last night’s election behind us, “N” now equals nine. The trend is holding.

Why is that? The more time candidates spend beneath the media spotlight, the more time voters have to decide whether or not they like the (usually) men running for office. That may seem like a superficial way to choose a president. But it also makes sense that voters want to elect the candidate they’d rather spend the next four years looking at in their living rooms.

Whatever the reason, one thing is undeniable: voters have elected the more charismatic candidate every time.

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Comments (3)

  1. By Craig:

    I agree… to a point. But to me it comes close to the circular argument that “chemistry” helps teams win… and what is chemistry? Being a winning team!

    If Obama lost last night, you could just as easily argue that Mitt Romney proved to be the more charismatic fellow — after all, look how many people voted for him!

  2. By Brad Phillips:


    Thanks for your comment!

    I know it would have been easy for me to make the case either way if Romney had won, but I wouldn’t have. As proof of that, here’s a post I wrote in March, in which I argued that President Obama had the “charimsa” edge:

    I appreciate you reading and taking the time to weigh in.

    Be well,

  3. By Jackie08:

    I don’t know if you are right or not, but this is the exact same thing I have been saying for years. The polls will go up and down a bit, depending on media coverage, debates, ads, etc. but it seems that when it gets down to voting time, the majority of people vote for the most charismatic leader. And this is SO frustrating when the leader is not making the best decisions for this country. I think people want a leader that they like and that they are drawn to and want to follow. That’s why so many magazines about Hollywood types sell. The subjects are often very charming, charismatic people … very watchable. We need to try to educate ourselves enough to override that bias, but, practically speaking, I don’t think that will ever happen.

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