Is character more important than political history for a politician?
Whether a politician's character or political history is more important a factor for constituents to consider comes down to subjective perception versus objective facts. With certainty, we can see whether a politician supported or opposed a policy or political move by simply researching their own words or examining their voting record. Character, however, is a far more biased and fluid metric. Take President Trump; some see him as selfish, stupid, and bigoted while others see him as principled, intelligent, and patriotic.
When considering how a politician will likely act if elected, one can make a far more credible argument by pointing to the politician's past words and actions than by simply claiming, 'He seems nice.' A candidate can seem friendly and approachable but still support unethical policies, and a candidate can seem cold and off-putting while still doing their job well and with integrity.
Politics shouldn't be a popularity contest. Elections should not be based on who is the most likable, but on who is the most competent and supports the more ethical policy—a true metric of morals. As it stands, politicians are regarded in much the same way that we regard celebrities. This has led to the formation of parasocial relationships, which causes 'fans' to be blind to their 'idol's' flaws and resistant to criticism.
Despite many jokes that claim the contrary, politicians are people, and people are not always what they seem. Rather than attempting to judge based on our biased perceptions of the personality and character of a person we have likely never met, we should look back on what they have done with their political power for an indicator of what they will do in the future.
Policy positions and actions can change over time, especially when a politician's character is the driving force behind them. Some of the defining traits of a person's character, like a natural curiosity, an openness toward others, and the ability to self-reflect, lead individuals to change their positions on issues. A contemporary example how a leading politician could change positions can be found in Joe Biden and the 1994 crime bill. Initially supported by many in the African American community, the law is now understood to have severely impacted them. Biden has since changed positions. Judging people by who they are is always superior to judging them based on past beliefs and actions.
Proof that character matters more than political history can be found in President Donald Trump. Elected in 2016 with almost no political history, other than once being a registered Democrat, a large enough percentage of the population found his character appealing enough to elect him. His lack of political history demonstrates how character is more important to voters.
Character should matter to an electorate more than a politician's political history because it is a better indicator of how the politician will act in the future. Political history only shows how a politician acted in the past based on a myriad of factors that were considered by many other governing bodies at the time of the decision. However, character is a much clearer indicator of what a politician's future behavior might be. It is impossible to know the challenges an elected official will face in office, but by getting an understanding of his or her character, we can get a good picture of how a politician might react.
- Character is defined as “features or traits that form the individual nature of some person,” and as a “moral or ethical quality.”
- A recent October Pew Research Center poll indicates “Men are more likely than women to vote for Republican candidates in both the House and presidential elections, while women are more likely to support Democratic candidates in both” when it comes to straight ticket voting.
- Another Pew report details how Bill Clinton’s impeachment based on his Monica Lewinsky affair barely affected his public support numbers in 1998, as “71% of Americans approved of how he was handling his job as president, 10 percentage points higher than a survey taken just before the scandal broke.”
- Politico reported in 2019 that 46% of voters believed President Trump’s Twitter activity could cost him reelection.