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Relationships are tricky, especially political ones. Once people choose a side, getting them to switch is a tough proposition, which is why the old cliché is true: Democrats vote for Democrats, Republicans for Republicans, and both sides fight over the narrower slice in the center.
So, a thought experiment: how do you get so-called “independents” to declare a side? How do you get them to commit? Or, in other words, how do you get them to fall in love with you?
When researchers asked people to tell the stories of how they fell in love, what were the eleven most common factors?
Variables that influence falling in love:
1. Similarity in attitudes, background, personality traits
2. Geographic proximity
3. Desirable characteristics of personality and appearance
4. Reciprocal affection, the fact that the other likes us
5. Satisfying needs
6. Physical and emotional arousal
7. Social influences, norms, and the approval of people in our circle
8. Specific cues in the beloved’s voice, eyes, posture, way of moving
9. Readiness for a romantic relationship
10. Opportunities to be alone together
11. Mystery, in the situation or the person
Think about that for a second, from the perspective of a political candidate. Some of that stuff is obvious: be normal, be available, be close, be popular. In political terms, that means, I think, the following: seem like a regular person (the “I want to have a beer with that guy” rule); seem like you can relate to the voter (“be close”); and be appealing to other voters (look like a winner, in other words.)
Some of it isn’t so obvious. What could “satisfying needs” mean? For liberals, it’s a pretty easy thing — promise more and bigger benefits. But what does that mean for conservatives?
Be mysterious? I suppose that could mean maintaining the dignity and prestige of the office. Acting presidential, that sort of thing. Looking and acting like a leader.
But the one I find the most compelling is this: “Reciprocal affection.” Actually have an affection for the voter. Enjoy being on the campaign trail. When you press the flesh, look like you’re enjoying yourself. No, that’s not enough. You have to genuinely enjoy it. Reagan did. So did Bill Clinton. George W. Bush did, too. Barack Obama, not so much.
That’s one thing we can say about Barack Obama: he doesn’t like us very much. But I suspect the next president will feel differently.