As I posted earlier, our study of previous successful presidential candidates shows that success is very strongly correlated with a particular language model, consisting of:
- Uniformly positive language
- Complete absence of negative language
- Using uplifting, aspirational metaphors rather than policy proposals, and
- Ignoring the competing candidates
Trump presumably polls well, to a large extent, because he uses this language model (not so much ignoring of the competing candidates recently, but maybe that’s the effect of a primary). This language pattern tends to be used by incumbent presidents running for re-election, and seems to derive from their self-perception as already-successful in the job they’re re-applying for. Trump, similarly, possesses huge self confidence that seems to have the same effect — he perceives himself as (automatically, guaranteed) successful as president.
The dynamic between the successful self-perception issue and the competence issue was hard to separate before; and we’ve used ‘statesmanlike’ to describe the model of language of electoral success. All of the presidential incumbents whom we previously studied had a self-perception of success and a demonstrated competence and we assumed that both were necessary to deploy the required language comfortably and competently. Trump, however, shows that this isn’t so — it’s possible to possess the self-perception of success without the previously demonstrated competence. In Trump’s case, presumably, it is derived from competence in a rather different job: building a financial empire.
The media is in a frenzy about the competence issue for Trump. But our language model explains how it is possible to be popular among voters without demonstrating much competence, or even planned competence, to solve the problems of the day.
Voters don’t care about objective competence in the way that the media do. They care about the underlying personal self-confidence that is revealed in each candidate’s language. The data is very clear about this.
It may even be the rational view that a voter should take. Presidents encounter, in office, many issues that they had not previously formulated a policy for, so self-confidence may be more valuable than prepackaged plans. And voters have learned that most policies do not get implemented in office anyway.
It’s silly to treat Trump as a front runner when no actual vote has yet been cast. But it wouldn’t be surprising if he continues to do well for some time. Of the other candidates, only Christie shows any sense of the use of positive language but, as a veteran politician, he cannot seem to avoid the need to present policies.