11/3/08 Alpha and the Vote
8/8/08 Alpha and the VP Pick
| 8/28/08 Postscript: Evangelicals and the GOP VP Pick
Evangelicals are subject to the pull of human alpha, but want to remain firmly in the camp of The Ultimate Alpha... click link for more.
8/27/08 Dem.VP - Epilogue:
The antidote to the McCain narrative Ė that Obama should have chosen Hillary, but didnít because she criticized him Ė is to consider how Team McCain would have spun a Hillary VP choice. They would have said Obama cynically chose the past over his message of change, cravenly caved to the Clintons, and created a dysfunctional ticket that canít govern.♦
1/16/08 Updated 'ALPHA RANKS at a glance.'
| 8/8/08 Note: Alpha Watch '08 ground to a sudden halt in January due to a medical emergency.
We're back! Check for new columns and features posted irregularly 'til the election.
| 1/8/08 Column:Not 'Change vs. Experience' -- Now it's Hope vs. Skepticism
Alpha and the Presidential Campaign
Why do so many conservatives support Rudy, despite his social liberalism? How did Hillary's poll numbers survive her vote on Iran?
While pundits struggle to understand, biology has its way with us. We're wired to follow an alpha -- one who's virile, charismatic, and confidence-inspiring. We ally with the candidate in whose posse we want to be, the one who'd have our back. Our thoughts rationalize our choice, they don't determine it.
And what candidates say may be less important than how they 'read' on a gut level, which reflects their whole biogrammar -- all their verbal and nonverbal signals.
Alpha is always a factor, but it varies in importance depending on the political climate. Carter, not a classic alpha, beat Ford in 1976 when integrity trumped alpha after Watergate. Carter lost to Reagan in 1980 after seeming to mishandle a terrorist episode. In the terror-stricken world of today, we revert to animal instinct. Alpha rules. We want a protector. (Yes, integrity and other issues matter today, too, but fear trumps hope.)
A caveat: EVANGELICALS present a special case. In a scary world, evangelicals turn to God for protection -- hence the religiosity of the current campaign. In a parallel evangelical election race, it's alpha man vs. Alpha God. Torn between instinct and belief, evangelicals are subject to the gut pull of alpha, but want to remain firmly in the camp of the Ultimate Alpha. Rudy is the object of ambivalence because he has instinctual appeal as a protector, but his social policies might provoke the wrath of The Protector. (See Mitt and Huckabee, below).
Anyhoo, the chart below handicaps the candidates along the silent but critical dimension of alpha. Alpha affects us implicitly, but can be resisted by conscious effort. So keep in mind that it's not necessary for a President to be alpha to lead the free world and be taken seriously by world leaders. When you're President of the United States, they have to take you seriously, no matter who you are. They take George Bush seriously, don't they?
Alpha status is relatively stable, but is subject to change by iconic media moments. Check back for new columns, and for biweekly Rank Updates.
|ALPHA RANKS at a glance Click for full version
|RUDY Rudy again, by default.
|RUDY Don't count him out. Rudy's a natural alpha, and he's running on it -- his wife touts his high testosterone.
|HILLARY Wonkish, plodding, unpoetic -- and alpha.
|HILLARY Can Hillary take the "male" out of "alpha male"?
|MITT Dopey blank expression, but in the current GOP pack, only Rudy's more alpha.
|MITT Alpha manly looks, but he sways in the breeze.
|AL FANTASY FAVE See 1/02/08.
|AL FANTASY FAVE Gore is alpha now because he's desired, not desirous.
|BARACK When the spell breaks, can he compete on the alpha playing field?
|BARACK Hope is seductive, but is alpha brain-power enough to inspire voter confidence?
|FRED Why is this credible alpha just phoning it in?
|FRED Strong, silent presence, but is his alpha drive too low?
|EDWARDS See 1/2/08.
|EDWARDS If we could articulate exactly why Edwards never seems to break through, we'd crack the code of alpha.
|McCAIN McCain's not the alpha he was in 2000.
|McCAIN McCain is finally getting it -- this election is about alpha. His new keyword is "courage."
|HUCKABEE With Biden's exit, Huckabee moves up a notch by default.
|BIDEN When Biden talks about foreign policy, he's alpha-masculine and confidence-inspiring. But...
| HUCKABEE Huckabee is able to calm voters' fears without being a classic alpha. His presence evokes fatherly protection in a nostalgic pre-9/11 world. But...
| REST OF THE PACK There's not enough alpha in the rest of the pack for any of them to break out. See below.
|ALPHA RANKS back to top
|RUDY is a natural alpha, and that's what he's selling. His wife's soundbites describe him as "strong," "macho," and "high testosterone-factor." Rudy credibly filled the role of protector-figure during 9/11, but he could look like a loose cannon, not a protector, if he overplays the anti-terrorist bravado or shows his dark side. Rudy has wisely kept his testy ego on a tight leash, looking darned statesmanlike, but campaign setbacks will test his well-crafted composure.
|HILLARY Can Hillary take the "male" out of "alpha male"? She's the most alpha Democrat -- tough, steady, and charismatic. She wouldn't blink first in an Alpha Smackdown with Rudy. And she's got uber-alpha Bill by her side. But can voters overcome their gut sexism? Not if Bill plays protector to Hillary -- it makes her look weak. Hillary must never assert any gender prerogatives. She's trying to modulate her voice, which is key -- Hillary's lecturing singsong evokes nagging mothers and wives.
|MITT The Stepford Candidate. Despite his alpha manly looks, Mitt comes off as plastic and outer-directed--not alpha qualities. Worse, he's revealed a fatuous bitchy side that evokes Stephen Colbert's TV character -- same opaque narcissism. (Compare the two.). Mitt tried to reframe the religous debate (from Sect vs. Sect, to Belief vs. Secularism) but he ain't gonna out-God Huckabee, so he should keep the focus on his forte - executive competence.
|FANTASY FAVE AL Gore's well-earned dignity and self-respect are masculine and confidence-inspiring. He's alpha now because he's desired, not desirous. If he ran for President he'd lose his center and become lost, needy Al again, flailing about in search of the charisma he only has when he's not running for office...unless he hooks up with savvy, pitch-perfect alpha Mike Bloomberg. A third party run from that team would change the game.
|BARACK Hope is seductive, but will voters believe? They'll vote their hopes only if their fears are assuaged. Obama should stop protesting (too much) that his inexperience is a virtue, and focus on his analytic powers and modern, cosmopolitan worldview. The campaign is ripening Obama quickly, and his recent rhetorical virility has offset an air of pollyannish naivete. But despite his undeniable star power, Obama still looks the earnest ingenue. His charisma is more Ben Affleck than Ronald Reagan. Still, he's got x-factor...and people want to believe.
|FRED Dobson dealt a blow when he named what voters already unconsciously perceived -- Fred's lack of passion. Fred's not young, either, and having a young wife only makes his age more salient. Thompson's looming height evokes a strong, silent protectiveness, but he's kinda laid-back for today's scary world (if he were president, would he show up?) Still, his laconic style might seem refreshing after voters get sick of the other candidates' yakking. But an alpha must draw attention. If he wants the job, Thompson needs to stay in the spotlight.
|EDWARDS If we could articulate exactly why Edwards never seems to break through, we'd crack the code of alpha. But ironically, his conspicuous wealth, earned as an aggressive lawyer, lends some alpha cred even as it tarnishes his populist image. Still, for all his tough talk, Edwards is more petulant terrier than alpha doberman. Like Obama, he's perenially boyish. His campaign should focus on his progressive ideas and gutsy tenacity.
|McCAIN McCain is finally getting it -- this election is about alpha. His new keyword is "courage." Bringing out the POW footage highlights his legitimate alpha cred, and reviving his straight-talk voice has been a necessary corrective to an earlier impression of pandering. Courage is an advertisement for oneself, implying confidence in one's virility. McCain needs this masculine display to counter the negative-alpha of his relative age.
|BIDEN Biden's been around so long that it's hard for him to inspire the white knight fantasy. But he's partly to blame for his not being taken seriously enough. There's something subtly self-deprecating in Biden's persona. He should check his self-image -- even in this official photo, he has the look of a class clown. And his occasional tone-deaf slips-of-the-tongue detract from a sense of his surefootedness. But Biden has courage and smarts, and when he talks about foreign policy, he looks presidential. He's #9 with a bullet.
|HUCKABEE NEVER GONNA HAPPEN Speak softly and carry a gun. Mike's proving that with the proper delivery, you can be both pro-life and pro-death-penalty, a compassionate Christian who kills Tweety Bird for sport. He's got Alpha God in one pocket and alpha Chuck Norris in the other. But more importantly, Huckabee has a unique ability to calm voters' fears without being a classic alpha. His old-fashioned pastoral persona suggests fatherly protection in a nostalgic pre-911 world. Still, no amount of Christian rhetoric can spin away his sly backhanded comments or nasty Romney-ad stunt. Mike's a walking contradiction of style vs. substance, and it's catching up with him. But voters would never buy him as Commander-in-Chief in any case.
|REST OF THE PACK There's not enough charisma in the rest of the pack for any of them to break out. To be viable, a candidate must grab the attention of the voter -- alphas fascinate. Despite their bona fides, Dodd and Richardson make voters eyes glaze over. Ron Paul is attention-grabbing, but he'd need John Wayne alpha to offset his outlier politics. And though physical stature doesn't always guarantee or preclude alpha (think John Kerry and Fiorello La Guardia) Dennis Kucinich is the non-exception whose perennial low standing proves the rule.