I’ve followed politics since I was young. Both of my parents actively followed the news and I tuned in with them, whether they were watching presidential election coverage or our local Board of Selectmen meeting. As a result, I developed a thirst for political news and current events and went on to study Political Science in college.
Through my hours spent watching politics, I’ve seen that a candidate’s image is at the core of how voters perceive his or her campaign. What kind of person is this candidate? What is his or her background? What issues does this candidate really care about?
As the 2016 presidential race shapes up, it’s more important than ever that the image created by each candidate distinguishes him or her from the pack. Twenty candidates are currently running for President, many of them with similar qualifications and the same ideological positions. How does a candidate win their party’s nomination then? By developing the right image.
- Stake out a unique position in the field.
In a field of twenty (and counting) candidates, candidates need to set themselves apart and prove that they can offer voters something unique. Given that nine candidates are either currently serving or have served as governor, five are sitting U.S. Senators and three are former Senators, this is no easy task.
So far, Hillary Clinton has positioned herself as a champion for the everyday American. Bernie Sanders is positioned as a liberal activist. Marco Rubio’s campaign slogan, “A New American Century,” promises to restore the American Dream. Jeb Bush’s campaign focuses on his record as Governor of Florida. Donald Trump is the billionaire who will say anything, and Chris Christie “tells it like it is.”
Will these images hold in an ever-shifting field of candidates? Only time will tell.
- Learn how to use the poll numbers—or learn how to succeed in spite of them.
Does a candidate hold that coveted frontrunner spot, or is he the underestimated underdog? Poll numbers certainly define a candidate during the primaries, but as we saw in 2012, those dynamics can keep shifting right up until the last few weeks of primary season.
Will 2016 candidates with low poll numbers meet the same fate as the candidates of 2012? It all depends on how candidates strategically use the media to broadcast an image that is more than just their poll standing and change the rhetoric surrounding their campaign.
Bobby Jindal’s campaign has been attempting to overcome low poll rankings by communicating that Jindal is well-rounded, a “do-er”, and is busy governing Louisiana. Chris Christie has been plagued by low poll numbers and low approval ratings from New Jersey voters. After a poll found two-thirds of New Jersey voters don’t think he would make a good President, Christie argued it was because “New Jersey voters want [him] to stay.”
Rick Perry has said he’s not concerned about being at the bottom and is instead focusing on his political experience and record from 14 years as the Governor of Texas. The recent headlines surrounding Lincoln Chafee say that “literally zero people” support him. Chafee’s response back in April to his numbers, when he was polling at one percent, was that there are “innumerable examples of one percenters who have gone onto success.”
Candidates have to establish an image that either coincides with their status if they’re lucky to be perceived to be at the top or refutes the opinion that their campaign is likely doomed, especially now that TV networks are planning to limit debates to the top candidates.
- Establish a consistent image.
The most important aspect of a candidate’s image is keeping it consistent.
For the 2016 presidential hopefuls, what they say and what they do needs to be in sync with their image as a whole for voters to trust them – in interviews, meeting voters on the campaign trail, in debates.
For example, the New York Times covered Hillary Clinton’s trip to an Iowa Chipotle a few months ago as in line with her campaign’s focus on everyday Americans. Yet, some outlets pointed out that not tipping the staff clashed with her image.
In June, Jeb Bush slow-jammed the news with Jimmy Fallon on The Tonight Show. Jeb! 2016 is all about presenting Jeb the person to the public, drawing attention away from his last name. But he can’t seem to escape the Bush family dynasty and allegations of campaign finance violations.
Even Donald Trump’s public image is consistent. As controversial as some of his statements have been, he’s proven he’ll say whatever he feels and make no apologies for it.
As the 2016 race heats up, whose image will hold up under fire, whose will disintegrate, and whose will emerge from the ashes? It all depends on the image built by each would-be president in these early days of the campaign.