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The Greyhound

The Student News Site of Loyola University Maryland

The Greyhound

Personality vs. Policy

Personality vs. Policy, ‘CottonBro Studio’

The following does not represent the views of Loyola University Maryland, the Greyhound, or Loyola University’s Department of Communication.

We all remember the very first student council elections when we were young, and our teachers would tell us, ‘do not make this a popularity contest!’  

How did we collectively choose to forget this message, said to all of us countless times? 

In recent years, we have watched the personalization of politics become stronger than ever. When it comes to selecting who we will vote for, it often resounds in an anticlimactic, “there is just something about them!” or “I feel like I could grab a beer with them”. 

I hear much less of a call to specific policy actions as reasons for liking candidates than I would like to; I know that in casual conversations we may not necessarily reference official law names and codes, however there is a significant and noticeable lack of information in voters decision making that has made elections about personality instead of policy.  

There are countless reasons for this, but perhaps humans are simply lazy by nature. It takes extra work to become more educated on topics, and it does not help that access to reliable information is fleeting before our eyes. This is when politicians do their best work, getting your vote.   

The journey from a campaign to the White House is an exhausting and expensive feat, so of course these campaigns use every tactic in the book. Persuasion is a skill, and the ability to appeal to emotion has proven to be more effective than using logical reasoning skills. CalTech even proved that people who struggle with emotions have difficulty making decisions, which includes deciding who to elect. This is why we find presidential elections to be more and more like a marketing battle, selling a candidate to you, rather than a true political campaign earning your vote. 

Communications Program Assistant Chris Kimani explained that marketing tactics playing into emotions are utilized more frequently than facts, particularly in recent elections.

“[Campaigns are] putting out information that is more emotion based, such as fears, when they are advertising themselves.”

I know what you are thinking, obviously, Kate! It seems like every conversation about American politics over the past decade has been discussing something parallel to this idea. As overt as this seems, we cannot underestimate the power of knowledge.  

The brain reacts in a unique way to persuasion. Dr. Diana Betz, a psychology professor at Loyola, described the different ways humans perceive it, and the overwhelmingly popular route is called the peripheral route.  

“This is where things like, ‘who is saying this and do I like them? Are they perceived by others as being smart?’ come into play,” Dr. Betz said. “It is when you look at superficial ques and can be really persuaded.” 

Likeability is one of the largest factors people consider when deciding who they will vote for, seeking to be described as ‘tough’ or ‘friendly’ by the public.  

Matthew Bigg, an employee of the United Nations and New York Times correspondent said, “Candidates trumpet their voting records, their experience, and their strong principles. But unless they pass a basic test of likability, their chances of making it all the way to the White House are slim.”  

“Image is extremely important. Issues always come in a dismal last,” Biggs said.

When examining election news, being able to see through the fluffy personalities and into policy stances and how they will affect your life is key. What we thought was the age of information is becoming the post-truth era, altering what we receive as facts daily, which affects how campaigns run. We often are given over-simplified information from campaigns, and our brain likes it. 

Dr. Betz said, “There is a very universal tendency for confirmation bias. It’s easier to look for evidence that matches the way you are already thinking about something.” 

She explained that every person has something that is important to them that contributes to their identity, which is a great quality, but sometimes this leads to a lack of information because we do not seek out anything that presents new information.  

What we need is education. 

“Having access to reliable news is critically important because in order for you to make the right decision you need to have the right information,” Kimani said. “Without having [reliable news], you are not able to make the best decision.” 

I have good news for you, though! There are tactics to muffle the noise surrounding our news and political systems.  

Kimani said that vetting sources is crucial for our understanding of the world around us, but it can be difficult to do so when everything is available to us on our phones. When vetting a source yourself, look for inflammatory language and descriptors. A true news report, not an Opinion piece, will omit many adjectives like ‘best’ or ‘worst’. If you come across language like that from politicians or reporters, take note that they are appealing to the emotional part of your brain and not the logical part of your brain.  

Although it takes extra time to seek out, synthesize, and analyze reliable news than to not, the outcome outweighs the work. And who knows—you might discover an issue you become very passionate about. Look past charisma, charm, and persuasion and look towards the cold, boring, trustworthy facts.  

Basically what I am saying is, make politics boring again! 

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