There’s a policy element to all this, as well, in that we like people who have views and values we can relate to. Or, to put it another way, we don’t favor candidates whose values are alien to ours. Nobody fits our likes and dislikes perfectly, but we make judgments on candidates based on whether they more closely align with our values than the other candidate does.
We also judge “likability” by whether or not we think a candidate is going to serve our interests. We evaluate them on whether they hold roughly the same goals and interests we do, and if so, we’re much more likely to support them. Which is also why we want our candidates to be reliable and steady in their views. We want officeholders we can trust, not people who jump all over, saying one thing one day and another the next.
I think Americans also prefer candidates who display a basic sense of honesty and decency, who possess a strong moral compass, and who show compassion for people who are struggling in their lives. This does not mean we always vote for them—political circumstances or straight-on political calculation can get in the way—but I believe that for most Americans, those qualities matter a great deal.
Clearly, a lot goes into whether or not a candidate is likable, and one voter’s gut sense will differ from another’s. But I can tell you that right now, candidates for office all over the country are focused on this question.
Campaigning is a matter of going from one group to another— sometimes small, sometimes large—and the question always on your mind is how you appeal to this group or person, and how you make yourself likable to them. In the wake of the election, the winners will be patting themselves on the back for having figured it out. And the losers will be left wondering how they might have behaved differently… and been more likable.