Our perceptions of others depend upon a number of factors. Among them is the extent to which people seem to be like us. Another is attraction — appealing in some way due to characteristics we’ve learned to appreciate or perhaps a sense of humor. Accomplishments can enter into our perceptions of others, especially regarding those running for political office. What have they done that we find admirable or disappointing?
Aside from such perceptions, we also formulate expectations regarding how people should behave. In my first book, Persuasion in Practice, described by Public Opinion Quarterly as a “landmark” review of persuasion theory and research, I wrote about behavioral rules that each of us develop pertaining to what’s obligatory, prohibited, preferred, permissible, and irrelevant in particular situations. Without such rules, civil society would not be possible.
Take the simple rule that a “hello” should elicit a return greeting. In the absence of such a response, assumptions are made about the mood or politeness of the person who flouted the rule. Adults, as a rule, should not talk loudly in libraries. Of course, there are exceptions to all rules. If there is a fire in a library, shouting a warning is not only permissible, it’s obligatory. Why? Another rule tells us we should care about the wellbeing of others.
We’ve heard a lot about whether Clinton or Trump is more presidential. This discussion assumes that we have a set of rules regarding how presidents should act — what’s obligatory, preferred, prohibited, permissible and irrelevant. Again, there is variation, especially this election cycle. Some people appreciate candidates with whom they could comfortably have a beer. Personally, that’s rather low on my list. But, in the U.S., it’s not uncommon to hear that one admired candidate or another is that type of person.
Whatever our rules for how a candidate should behave, what they should have accomplished, and what emotions, for example, they should elicit from us, some can deviate from these rules without paying dearly. Others cannot. This is where we get into who could win the next presidential election.
Most of us have friends who we like but for some reason they don’t fit well with our other friends. They break the rules. They may be too loud or brash. Taking them to parties is a risk. Yet, we like them. We may have come to do so at another period in our lives when such behavior was humorous. Or, other things about them compensate for their deviations from rules.
We have given such people social extra credit to spend nearly as they wish — what psychologist Edwin Hollander called “idiosyncrasy credits” — the ability to deviate from norms or rules without being punished. “There goes Ed just being Ed,” we might think when a friend tells a ridiculous joke or does something that offends others.
Idiosyncrasy credits are like social assets in the bank. The more idiosyncrasy credits you have with a person or a group, the more they excuse untoward behavior.
Donald Trump has loads of idiosyncrasy credits with many of his supporters. How he got them is the subject of another blog. How far away from the rules can Trump stray without paying a price at the voting booth? No one really knows. This week he suggested Clinton’s security should have their guns taken away, essentially that she be unprotected to see what happens.
Hillary Clinton has worked diligently over the years without fanfare. Like so many women, in particular, she does her job and likely finds it unsavory to brag. As a result, much of what she has accomplished hasn’t been proclaimed for all to see. This is where a lot of women, and certainly many men as well, go wrong. They don’t share what they do when they do it or close in time. They assume the work and good things will speak for themselves – that bosses, for example, will notice. Donald Trump has never assumed this. He seeks credit without apology.
Clinton is also not flamboyant and not particularly funny in public. She has admitted that she isn’t the most natural speaker. She’s been demeaned for her pants suits and described as screaming and whining. She has a bout of pneumonia and we have a media circus over what that means.
Never mind that Trump has provided far less information about his health and that he looks like he could knock off quite a few pounds. Never mind that we haven’t seen his tax returns because his children say we’re incapable of understanding them. Trump insults and offenses roll off. For many people, “That’s just him being him.”
Assuming that Hillary Clinton does suffer from a deficit of idiosyncrasy credits, can anything be done at this late date?
Presidential candidates can complain about the unfairness of idiosyncrasy credits being given to the unworthy, but it rarely changes things – especially not quickly. Instead, they need to take a hard look at what’s standing in the way of being liked and admired by the groups that can make a difference.
In Clinton’s case, supporters need to be out in droves loudly singing her praises, giving clear examples, drawing upon her contributions rather than simply responding to Trump’s latest attack. There should be a “DID YOU KNOW?” campaign for Clinton starting today.
There is no one but yourself to blame if the accomplishments of your career are only available to your inner circle and in your resume. While research clearly indicates that women have far less latitude when “bragging” than men, and gender does influence her in other ways that are problematic, her campaign and Democratic Party leaders need to loosen up in terms of letting us know what she has done.
Her supporters need to drive home what she has accomplished, promises she has kept when others did not, care she has shown, and competency rarely credited to her. In the debates, we should hear in response to a Trump attack, “You mean the time I did x, y, z while you did nothing?”
Hearing from those who know her is crucial to building idiosyncrasy credits. This is part of the vice-presidential candidate’s job. And we need to hear more from him. But he can’t do it alone.
Lack of appreciation in one area can be balanced or overcome by credits garnered in another. It’s time for the Clinton team to strategize in this way. They can’t wait for the press to do the right thing. Some journalists will. Others just want a promotion.
It’s not enough to let people know who you are and what you’ve done via a website. Idiosyncrasy credits in presidential races require getting the word out far and wide, loud and clear, again and again.