The US Presidential election is the world’s number one job search. Every four years the American public picks the head of the US executive basing their choice against a key set of criteria that they deem to be critical to successfully fulfilling the role and delivering shared success.
A skillset to win
As with any job interview, most skills and character traits play a part, but their importance and desirability vary depending on the circumstances. In 1976, with America still reeling from the Watergate crisis, and the reputation of the Presidential Office tarnished, Jimmy Carter the humble peanut farmer from Georgia offered both welcome change and stability. Carter’s characterisation for being ‘boring’ turned out to be a virtue.
Likewise, in 1964, with America gripped by the looming prospect of nuclear war with the Soviet Union, Lyndon Johnson’s infamous ‘Daisy’ TV advert played to the incumbency effect by portraying his opponent, Barry Goldwater, as a reckless maverick whose inexperience of Presidential office risked world annihilation.
Presentation and credibility are always essential for the top job, so when, in 1988, footage of a dorky looking Democratic Presidential nominee, Mike Dukakis, sitting in the gunner position of a US army tank emerged, he learned the hard way as his 20 point lead and hopes of holding high office vanished.
Voter perception of Hillary Clinton as unrelatable, unapproachable and cold were cited by some as key ingredients to her failing to secure election in 2016.
Trump vs. Biden
Turning to the forthcoming election, character and performance will be the key factors upon which voters will make their choice, and as many commentators have pointed out already “fitness for office” is probably more significant in this election than any other. In determining criteria for performance, we’ve chosen from those used for hundreds of CEO jobs for top corporations, combining leadership skills with competencies and the ability to get things done. In determining criteria for character, we use 23 behavioural traits that encompass energy, intellect and interpersonal skills using traits from the ‘big five’ psychology methodology (OCEAN).
Voters (the customers to whom POTUS will report) can rate each of the candidates on the ballot on both performance and character and can then track how each candidate is perceived right up until election day.
The Incumbency Factor
As with any organisation, if you’re interviewing a candidate for a role they’ve already held it gives you a pretty good indication of their ongoing performance. This ‘incumbency factor’ is usually in the incumbent’s favour. Even presidents who weren’t particularly popular, like Barack Obama and George W. Bush benefit from this factor and consequently won re-election. Better the devil you know…
But, as with all employers, the US electorate’s patience has its limits. Presidents who are seen to have failed very badly flop. Famously, in 1932, amidst the Great Depression President Herbert Hoover suffered a crushing defeat at the hands of Franklin Roosevelt.
More recently, incumbents such as the elder George Bush in 1992 and Jimmy Carter in 1976, have lost in the context of a badly perceived economy. One of Bill Clinton’s 1992 campaign’s guiding phrases was ‘it’s the economy, stupid’ and perhaps Reagan’s most famous words in the 1980 election were his challenge to the electorate ‘are you better off than you were four years ago?’. Carter lost to Reagan by nine points, roughly the same margin as Trump currently trails Biden.
Beyond the economy
As one would expect from that lead, the American electorate as a whole dislikes Trump’s job performance; they currently disapprove of it by a clear margin ranging as high as 15 per cent in some polls. Despite that, some of Trump’s strongest ratings are on the economy (slightly ahead or behind depending on the poll), which is striking given the current economic crisis. Clearly voters, partly at least, fault the virus not the president.
But, it’s not just the economy, stupid. It is possible to lose an election when ahead on the economy. The 1968 and 2004 elections are evidence of this.
Crucially, Trump’s performance is weak on other major issues. Biden is ahead by some 11 per cent on being better able to deal with COVID-19. He’s also ahead by about 14 per cent on bringing the country together another significant metric.
A large majority are dissatisfied with the state of the country and two-thirds are fearful about it. Trump recognises his vulnerability and has resorted to emphasising Biden’s links to the radical left. The only way for Trump to win is for people to fear Biden and see Trump as the best bet in difficult times.
Even if performance is the focus of the election, character is another factor some voters will use to determine their choice for the top job. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Trump has continually scored very badly compared to both Biden and previous presidents. For example, a remarkable 80 per cent of Americans, including 75 per cent of his own supporters, describe him as self-centred. Trump trails Biden on most personal characteristics, including honesty and being a good role model. About the only character trait Trump has an advantage on is energy, by some 16 points, probably a reflection of concerns that Biden would be the oldest President in history if elected. Biden’s lead, however, is generally less than would be suggested by judgements on Trump’s character. Similarly Trump trailed Hillary Clinton on temperament by much more than he did in the popular vote.
A team ticket
Unlike most job interviews, however, the race for the White House sees two jobs up for grabs: President and Vice-President. Voters are hiring a team and, just as with any team, diversity in terms of skill sets, thinking, problem-solving and character can enhance performance. Here at ViewsHub we help teams to perform better. One way we do this is by working with organisations on a regular basis to map out their team’s skills and expertise, so they know where their weak points are and can use that information to determine future recruitment and skills training.
The selections of Mike Pence and Kamala Harris as candidates reflect the nature of complementary team members. Initially selected in 2016, Pence brought to the table credibility among social conservatives and evangelical Republican voters. His strong free market credentials and experience of public office were invaluable to his one-time rookie running mate, Donald Trump.
Meanwhile, as the first African-American, the first Asian-American, and only the third female Vice-Presidential running mate, 55-year-old Kamala Harris brings relative youth, energy, and diversity – areas where Biden falls short.
Despite the complementary offering that helped secure the Trump-Pence victory in 2016,
Trump’s greatest challenge at this election are his weak performance ratings. His would-be employers (voters) put Biden close to Trump on the economy and crime, and well ahead on uniting the country and on COVID-19. For President Trump to close the gap and keep his job, either the economy and crime have to loom larger to voters, or he has to close the gap somehow on the issues where he trails. It’s a tough, but not impossible task with less than three months left to polling day.