Just had a conversation with my friend and Hoover colleague, the political scientist Morris Fiorina. When I suggested that in his speech this evening Romney needs to demonstrate a certain warmth, Mo demurred, arguing instead that Romney would do fine if he merely conveyed a certain competence and strength of character.
Mo then sent me the link to a fascinating column he'd written this past spring. Joining a couple of other political scientists, Mo had studied the importance of likeability in recent presidential elections. An excerpt:
What journalists and historians wrote about the candidates after the elections was sometimes considerably at odds with what Americans said about the candidates before the elections. For example, in 1952 the public rated Adlai Stevenson slightly higher than Dwight D. Eisenhower on the personal dimension. Eisenhower was viewed as the strong leader who won the war in Europe. “I like Ike” described 1956 better than 1952. Similarly, in 1960 the public rated Richard M. Nixon ever so slightly higher than John F. Kennedy. As one prominent political scientist wrote at the time, “If the eventual account given by the political histories is that Nixon was a weak candidate in 1960, it will be largely myth.” Kennedy’s charisma developed after the election.
Over all, in the 13 elections between 1952 and 2000, Republican candidates won four of the six in which they had higher personal ratings than the Democrats, while Democratic candidates lost four of the seven elections in which they had higher ratings than the Republicans. Not much evidence of a big likability effect here.
All Mitt really needs to do, to put the matter rather crudely, is to prove at least as likable as Richard Nixon, which, of course, Mitt already is. In short, tonight Mitt may simply relax and be himself.
My, my. I do love it when a political scientist offers some good news.