With Huckabee, It's the Guitar, Stupid!
Matthew C. Nisbet, Ph.D. is Associate Professor of Communication Studies, Public Policy, and Urban Affairs at Northeastern University. Nisbet studies the role of communication and advocacy in policymaking and public affairs, focusing on debates over over climate change, energy, and sustainability. Among awards and recognition, Nisbet has been a Visiting Shorenstein Fellow on Press, Politics, and Public Policy at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government, a Health Policy Investigator at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and a Google Science Communication Fellow. In 2011, the editors at the journal Nature recommended Nisbet's research as “essential reading for anyone with a passing interest in the climate change debate,” and the New Republic highlighted his work as a “fascinating dissection of the shortcomings of climate activism."
In the 1984 presidential election pitting the charismatic Ronald Reagan against the plodding Walter Mondale, polls showed that a majority of Americans when asked specifically about their policy preferences favored Mondale's positions over Reagan's. Yet Reagan ended up winning in a landslide.
The reason was that Reagan's radical stands on taxes, the economy, and social issues were eclipsed by the penumbra of the former actor's personality and charisma. Likeability and perceived character became the deciding selection criteria for Americans over the issues.
This tendency by voters to overlook issue positions and go with the candidate they would rather share a beer with is at play in Mike Huckabee's electoral rise. As Andrew Sullivan quips in a blog header, "It's the guitar, stupid!"
In other words, although Huckabee holds Stone Age views on reproductive health, Islam, gays, morality, and the origins of the universe, for many voters these beliefs are over-shadowed by his court jester personality and guitar-playing political showmanship. As Le Monde attempts to explain to their French readers:
The guitar is a fundamental element of his strategy. It permits him to reassure those who would never imagine voting for a Baptist from the Bible Belt (southern states where evangelical Protestants are very present).
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