Well, the Democratic presidential primaries roller-coaster ride is winding down and it appears Barack Obama will be the nominee. And chances are, no one is more surprised than Hillary Clinton. Who could have predicted the candidate, who regularly appears in the top five of the USA Today/CNN/Gallup Poll annual list of most admired women, would be toppled by a first-term senator who was virtually unknown just a couple of years ago? Now that Hillary’s defeat could be imminent, many people are scratching their heads, wondering why such an intelligent and politically savvy woman couldn’t defeat the charismatic rookie she was up against. Some say it is the result of sexist voters, who are not ready to elect a woman president. Others are pretty sure they know the answer: Hillary just isn’t likeable.
Roxanne Rivera, a former spokesperson for the New Mexico Republican Party and creator of nocryinginconstruction.com-a website aimed at women currently working or planning to work in a male-dominated industry-belongs to this camp.
“For whatever reason, too many people simply don’t like Hillary,” says Rivera. “Though she has been on the ‘most admired’ list since the nineties, maybe people are only now really getting to know her now that they are seeing her up close and personal in the campaign. Of course, likeability is subjective. One person might define it in terms of attractiveness; another might say it requires a friendly demeanor; yet another might cite a sense of humor. Being likeable means bringing out the best in other people, inspiring them to feel a personal connection with you, and making them feel good about themselves. It’s a quality that people experience emotionally and even viscerally, not logically. It’s a necessity in politics-and Hillary clearly doesn’t have it.”
The likeability factor makes a difference in all of our lives. Consider the 1984 University of California study that showed doctors give more time to patients they like. Or the Columbia University study that showed that success in the workplace is based on how popular you are with your colleagues.
It should come as no surprise that very likeable people tend to have better lives than their unlikeable brethren. They are typically more successful and definitely more influential than the average person. That’s why so many politicians-at least in their campaigning phase-are so eager to “meet and greet” others. They want you to like them, and they know that the extent to which you do will determine their success.
Here is how important likeability is in politics: Before every election since 1960, a Gallup Poll has been taken that includes questions based on the personalities of the presidential candidates. These polls have shown a definite correlation between the candidates’ perceived likeability and which candidate actually won the election. Clearly, this does not bode well for Hillary-even with all her other decidedly presidential qualities.
“Hillary Clinton is dynamic,” says Rivera. “She is aggressive when she needs to be and a hard worker. That said, a recent Gallup Poll asking who voters would least like to see elected as president suggests these traits may not be enough to put her over the top. When the results were tallied, McCain came in first at 40 percent, but Hillary was a close second with 36 percent. And the reasons that 36 percent didn’t want Hillary to be president included not trusting her, not liking her, and not liking her attitude.”
The real question, Rivera says, is whether voters don’t like her because she truly is unlikeable or whether they don’t like her because they are intimidated by a strong, intelligent woman. She cites a 2007 study done by Green Mountain College in Vermont that showed that when the female in a couple was more dominating, her partner was seen as less competent and the couple as a whole was seen as less likeable.
“When a man is powerful, straightforward, and dynamic, people say he is charismatic,” notes Rivera. “But too often these traits mean Hillary is viewed as controlling, manipulative, and emotionally cold-the exact opposite of likeable.”
So, what specifically is it about Hillary that gives her a low likeability quotient? Rivera has narrowed it down to five characteristics that she thinks affect how much people like Hillary.
Her smile. We humans are hardwired to respond to smiling faces. There is a caveat though: The smile must be genuine. You can spot a fake smile from a mile away; it looks forced and doesn’t convey a feeling of warmth. A genuine smile lights up the entire face and is based on true emotions.
“I’ve watched Hillary closely throughout her campaign and there have been many times when Hillary’s smile has seemed forced,” says Rivera. “It seems as though she can turn it on and off at the drop of a hat. It comes off as a performance smile rather than one generated from true emotion. It does not spread to her eyes as a genuine smile would. A fake smile can make it difficult for a candidate to connect to voters, and I think that has definitely been true for Hillary.”
Her inability to be a good listener. Politicians absolutely have to be good listeners. And the best politicians are able to use what they’ve heard in order to provide thoughtful answers or solutions for voters. Unfortunately, says Rivera, it’s often obvious when Hillary is being interviewed that she’s not listening to the person asking her the questions.
“I can see in her eyes that she is just waiting for the other person to stop talking so that she can interject her opinion,” says Rivera. “Have you ever noticed that she will often start to shake her head ‘no’ the moment the interviewer starts talking? It’s a definite indication that she isn’t giving her full attention to him or her. When people feel like you are truly listening to them, you make them feel like they are the only person on earth. I think if Hillary had come off as a better listener she would have won the hearts of more voters.”
Her lack of honesty. Honesty and trustworthiness go hand in hand. When you don’t feel like you can trust someone, you don’t like them-and you certainly aren’t likely to vote them into political office. In fact, in the Gallup Poll mentioned earlier, lack of trust was the biggest reason voters said they least wanted Hillary to be elected president.
“When Hillary related a made-up story about being under sniper fire, it definitely negatively affected how much people felt they could trust her,” says Rivera. “For me, the most disturbing thing about the Bosnia story was that she didn’t seem to feel bad about the fictionalized version she told. She didn’t show any remorse or guilt for her dishonesty. Likeable people are first and foremost honest and trustworthy, but when they do make a mistake they are quick to apologize and correct the situation.”
Her chameleon-like personality. Rivera says that Hillary has demonstrated a burning desire to continue to convince every demographic of the population that she is the right woman for the job. In the process, she has seemingly taken on different personalities to make those groups like her.
“Because she has changed her own personality to appeal to others, she has sacrificed her ability to make a true personal connection with voters,” says Rivera. “When a woman has worked in a male-dominated field as long as Hillary has, there comes a point when she should no longer feel the urge to keep proving herself. By now, Hillary should be comfortable enough with her accomplishments to put down that burning desire and be herself. When she can do that, people will be able to connect with her on a new level.”
Her inability to be empathetic. Empathetic people are those who can easily put themselves in someone else’s shoes. Women who succeed in male-dominated fields usually possess a high level of emotional intelligence because they have to spend a good portion of their time reading the emotions and reactions of the men they are working with. Hillary may have “brainpower” intelligence in abundance, says Rivera, but she is sadly lacking in the emotional variety.
“I think Hillary finds it difficult to empathize with the wide array of people she is seeking to lead,” says Rivera. “Consider Hillary’s recent stop in North Carolina. There she was in the back of a pick-up truck with people all around explaining how the gas tax holiday would help everyone out at the pump this summer. She may have been trying to show empathy for the burden increased prices are placing on middle class Americans, but using such a stereotypically ‘Southern’ truck as her podium felt like pandering. True empathy would have meant addressing the crowd with dignity and respect rather than resorting to a cheap, and frankly, transparent political stunt.”
None of Hillary’s shortcomings mean that women are doomed to mediocrity in politics or in any segment of the male-dominated world, assures Rivera. There are plenty of assertive, strong women out there who are liked and respected by millions-Oprah Winfrey, Martha Stewart, Margaret Thatcher, and Maya Angelou are just a few. That means you can succeed without compromising yourself in any way. In fact, be yourself and you’ll be more likely to possess the likeability factor.
“Powerful women can be likeable,” says Rivera. “They need only possess the characteristics that others find endearing. In our relationships with others, we value honesty, trustworthiness, empathy, and genuineness-and we certainly want those qualities in our president, whether that person is a man or a woman.”