Politicians, stop trying to be like me
Ah, another campaign season. That special time of year where a bunch of people compete to try to convince you that they are the best person for office in a glorified popularity contest. Given the current state of most elections, candidates face tough scrutiny and media coverage. And with so much public exposure comes a lot, and I mean a lot, of damaging missteps. American political history is full of gaffes, goofs and slipups by politicians. The incredibly lame Dukakis tank joy ride, the tone-deaf Romney “47 percent” remark and of course, the Dean scream all put a quick end to potential chances at the presidency. These moments demonstrated to voters a lack of qualification for office for one reason or another.
But of all the political blunders over the years, none is more off-putting and misguided to me than Hillary Clinton’s oh-so-cringy “Pokemon Go to the polls” comment during the 2016 presidential race. For those of you have never seen this metaphorical political face-plant, during a campaign rally in 2016, then-candidate Hillary Clinton attempted to seem “hip” and “with it” by saying, “I don’t know who created Pokemon Go, but I’m trying to figure out how we get them to have ‘Pokemon Go to the polls,’” referencing the mobile app Pokemon Go at the height of its popularity.
Now I don’t know about you, but Hillary Clinton just doesn’t seem like the type to have been running through the streets trying to catch Pikachus and Dratinis. My guess is that she couldn’t name more than one or two different Pokemon. But the point of this article isn’t to criticize Hillary Clinton’s lack of video game knowledge (see her past comments on the correlation between playing violent video games and school shootings for proof of that). My point is that it’s time for politicians to stop trying to act relatable to garner support.
I can’t speak for everyone, but I really couldn’t give two s—- about the pop culture preferences of politicians when deciding who to vote for in any given election. I didn’t need to see Barack Obama’s end of the year Spotify playlist or Paul Ryan dab during a town hall. And absolutely no one, I mean no one, needed that deeply uncomfortable video of Ted Cruz doing “The Simpsons” impressions. None of this information could have swayed my opinion on what these politicians actually stand for and believe. I absolutely adore “The Simpsons”, but knowing Ted Cruz does too isn’t going to make me like him. In fact, it kind of just ruins the show for me by association, but I digress.
However, there is sufficient statistical evidence in political science research showing that personality and likability of politicians is a strong indicator of political support. But in the vehemently polarized world we find ourselves in, is it really that important to voters to have a politician that is relatable to them? I don’t think Beto O’Rourke’s punk rock past is making anyone cross the isle and support him over Ted Cruz. If voters really cared that much about relatability, Bernie Sanders’ entire political coalition would be made of old men screaming at teenagers to get off their lawn and Larry David wannabes. It’s party and ideology that people really care about, and while personality factors can help, it should not be forced in a way that feels inauthentic.
You know who is probably the least relatable politician ever and didn’t try to convince people otherwise? Donald Trump. He referenced receiving a “small loan of $1 million” from his father, doesn’t drink alcohol and literally uses a golden toilet. And he’s president, beating “Hot Sauce in my bag, swag” Hillary. In fact, much of his appeal was that he was what people want to be but aren’t. His whole “I’m rich and you’re not, so I know how to be president” shtick resonated with a lot of people because people saw in him the wealth and status they wanted, exactly opposite of him trying to act relatable.
In reality, politicians don’t have to focus on pop culture trends to seem relatable. You know what is super relatable? Health care, economics and environmental policy! Everyone has a body they want to keep healthy, wants money and lives on planet earth. Actual political issues literally affect every single person ever. What’s more relatable than that? We’re in a time where, thanks to social media, voters are more well-informed and active than ever before. Voters, especially young voters, have become much more focused on ideology and actual issues, and it is a disservice to people’s time and intelligence to try to appeal to dumb and superficial perceptions of relatability. Now, if Hillary had said, “I don’t know who created Pokemon Go, but I’m trying to figure out how to convince people to put their phones down and go vote because Donald Trump is going to ruin our country,” I think she would have resonated stronger with voters.