Style vs. Substance – How Do You Vote?


The campaign season has officially been launched and from society committees to the next student exec it’s time for us to get set for a bombardment of silly slogans, painful puns, stirring speeches, and, admittedly some pretty funny photo’s, as candidates vie for attention and favor in the student body. But what does it say about us as a voting community that flashy campaigns and a witty spin on someones name have become so essential for success in roles which should surely be based on an individuals experience, understanding, and policies for the future? Is it insulting to our intelligence as the target audience that we are perceived as being won-over by amateur rhyming of a candidates name? Or are these techniques purely to grab a bit of attention and enable us to give deep consideration to all our available options? The celebritisation of politics and a growing sense that what you stand for, in terms of ideals and practical application of policies, pale in comparative importance to the personality and charismatic appeal of the individual who is running.

Examples of personality points and penalties are evident throughout the political world. President Obama is one of the most charismatic  attractive, and inspiring speakers and individuals of our age, with a beautiful wife, touching back story, and lets face it fantastic P.R team. Now don’t get me wrong I am thrilled Obama won, the alternative is almost too awful even for consideration, but none-the-less it’s somewhat disheartening that the majority of information on the 44th President of the USA when Googled is on his social calender (he recently played golf with Tiger Woods!); family life (what Michele was wearing and whether the puppy is toilet trained); or discussing his personal and cultural heritage. Could it be that the Obama sheen somewhat masks our view of just how credible his politics are? Or does it really not matter why he was voted in, given the alternative in America? After all, hasn’t politics always been about popularity anyway? The person who is most appealing to the most people? That is what democracy is all about, maybe it’s just the greater ability of individuals to advertise themselves which makes it so apparent and seem so superficial.

The same dilemma can be witnessed in The UK and Europe. The recent rise of the televised political debate, a classic US tradition, into European politics could be seen as emblematic of the evolution of politics into a popularity contest. Politicians are getting younger, getting told when to smile, being styled, prompted and coached in public speaking, arguably all to gain cheap publicity points for a one-off witty retort which could make you a national figure – as long as the microphone is on at the right time. In the UK at the moment widespread dissatisfaction at the austerity measures in general has not led to a revolutionary swing back to labour. Could it be that Edd Miliband, with his unfortunate “Wallace without Gromit” appearance and apparent inability to evoke emotion in his speeches, in short his lack of charisma, are what has stood in the way? Or is it just that the British public are generally disenchanted with the whole damn lot of them?

With voting levels low in many of the established democracies of the world, perhaps we cannot blame politicians and their PR teams for pulling out all the stops, and the cringingly poor punch-lines, as they attempt to curry our favour. We live in a culture of reality TV, Talent competitions, and celebrity obsessed media and to be fair they’re just trying to grab our attention, and support, in an ever more superficial world. It’s up to us, as voters and society in general, to decide what is truly important to us in a leader, be it of the country or our University.

By Ella Grimwade

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