The Holy Trinity Of Political Leadership
For a politician to be elected they need the holy trinity of political leadership - to be liked, respected and trusted. But you don’t need all three in equal measure, and that’s where it gets tricky.
Superficially getting elected is a popularity contest. Or who is ‘liked’ the most. We are all familiar with these votes from a relatively early age. Your school captain was probably the most popular kid (boy and girl), kids liked them, kids wanted to be them. Hot-button issues like cafeteria food were just a pleasant distraction to their pretty face or sporting prowess.
Fast forward a few decades and ‘populist’ politicians still get a lot of votes, and often it is still based on looks as much as it is policy. Voters will forgive a politician who is liked, their many transgressions.
In Australia we have the ‘beer test’, as in “would you want to have a beer with the politician?” I will leave aside the gendered aspect of that question, but believe me when I say it is noted.
One of our former leaders, Bob Hawke, held the world record for drinking a yard glass of beer. Question answered for Bob.
What makes the likeability test for politicians so powerful is that it is difficult to quantify. Why do you like politician A? We can like a variety of people even if we don’t trust them or respect them. We ‘like’ celebrities, but we wouldn’t let them babysit our kids.
Bill Clinton by all reports was well liked. He had a charisma to him that was magnetic, and still is apparently. Trust and respect became issues for him though.
And this is where the inherent weakness of likeability alone comes in. You need the other two in the trinity, trust and respect. A well-liked politician against a trusted one will lose.
So you need trust as well as being liked. And not necessarily in the same amount. How many politicians have we known and voted for that we don’t like, but we trust them to do what they say, or at least try?
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It is the reason that almost all campaign material contains the line “who do you trust?” And it works.