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Right vs. Cool

The Upcoming Elections

By Oliver DeMille

Weeks ago I wrote an article about two kinds of voters in modern America, the traditionalists (who vote mostly based on issues) and the literalists (who vote pragmatically).

The response has been both widespread and interesting.

The feedback made it clear that a lot of independent voters understood and appreciated my point, but few traditionally partisan voters fully understood what I was trying to say.

So, I’m going to try this again. Here goes…

Many voters base their vote on the issues. They like the views of one major party and dislike the views of the other.

Or, if they don’t identify with either party, they still listen to the ideas and platforms of each candidate and vote for who they think will do the best job in office—and they determine who “will do the best job” based on the candidate’s stance on important issues.

There is another kind of voter. This second kind of voter had little influence before the Age of the Internet, because the two big parties ran state and national politics.

This has changed in the last few years, mainly because the Internet and various social media have given a real voice to people outside the two big parties and a few editors at major newspapers and television networks.

Today, this second kind of voter has a huge voice.

For the most part, the first kind of voter is still depending on party caucuses, party meetings and party delegates, while the second kind of voter is engaging on-going online debates about political topics that go on 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and doesn’t care if there is a party meeting next month or if it already happened last month.

The first kind of voter elects the candidate he thinks is most right on the issues. The second kind of voter prefers the candidate he considers the most “cool.”

The word “cool” may seem incongruent with political commentary, but it isn’t.

At a recent political rally, I sat quietly on a couch and listened to the people walking past. It was a big crowd, and I wrote a lot of notes as I recorded what various voters said.

“Obama is so cool!” “Ron Paul is so cool!” “Ron Paul is awesome!” “Obama is the worst president ever.” “Ron Paul’s foreign policy is just plain crazy!” “Obama can really sing!” “Yeah, and dance!”

In contrast, I also wrote: “Mitt Romney is our only chance to fix the economy, avoid further downgrading of our credit rating, and re-energize private sector growth.”

These are only a few of the notes I took, but they are indicative of the overall mood.

I wrote something very close to the following at least a dozen times: “Governor Romney is the only candidate with both executive experience and an understanding of private sector business growth.”

But not one person who spoke of a candidate within my earshot said anything remotely like, “Romney is so cool.”

This certainly wasn’t a scientific study or poll.

My notes were entirely anecdotal.

But one theme emerged that I found interesting: the divide between gut-level, emotional comments and those that were clearly cerebral. I went away thinking that if Romney becomes the Republican nominee, he will have to immediately find a way to connect with regular Americans on an emotional, gut level, or he won’t have a chance in the general election.

Again, there are two kinds of voters.

One looks for the “right” candidate who will do the “right” thing on the important issues, the other looks for the candidate who is “awesome,” or “cool.”

Note that this isn’t just a generational difference, nor is the idea that a candidate is “cool” only a shallow, high-schoolish popularity thing.

It actually speaks to something much deeper, something that is perhaps intangible but which Washington insiders wisely refer to as “the leadership thing.”

Pundits on both sides of the aisle frequently discount “the cool thing” as simple and unsophisticated, but only because they tend to be issues voters.

They see elections as choosing the candidate who is the most right on the most issues, as discussed above, and they dismiss “the cool thing” because they tend to believe that all voters are issues voters.

But the second kind of voter is increasingly influential in American politics.

Indeed, in every presidential election in recent times the candidate with “the leadership thing” has won.

Most liberals vote with the Democratic candidate, and most conservatives vote for the Republican candidate.

But there are now more independents than Republicans or Democrats, and a lot of independents are “leadership” voters.

They just want great leadership, not another candidate trying to convince every group that he is
“with them” on the issues.

The more sophisticated of these leadership voters have additional criteria, but the masses go with “the cool thing.”

This is part of the American character, and the majority of these voters cast their votes for the candidate they think most likely to be the best leader.

Note that they define “leadership” as “leadership skills regardless of political leanings,” not as “closest to me on the issues.”

And these voters have quite a record. They supported:

Reagan over Carter
Reagan over Mondale
Bush over Dukakis
Clinton over Bush
Clinton over Dole
Bush over Gore
Bush over Kerry
Obama over McCain

In every case, most liberals voted Democratic and most conservatives voted Republican, but the nation went with leadership over issues.

And in most cases, it wasn’t that one candidate won “the leadership thing” as much as that one candidate lost on leadership.

In short, in every modern election we choose the “cool” candidate, and we define “cool” in ways having little or nothing to do with political views, left or right, liberal or conservative.

You can like this or dislike it, but issues voters need to get one thing very clear: All of these elections were determined by the second type of voter.

Those who want to understand our elections need to realize that while some voters vote on the issues, the deciding swing voters in close elections always go for what politicos call “the leadership thing” and what the masses would more easily understand as “the cool thing.”

And, again, this isn’t immature or shallow.

It’s about a profound, gut-level trust in the potential of great leadership, combined with a deep mistrust of political parties and politicians of every stripe.

Indeed, if you don’t trust what any politicians say, their rhetoric on the issues falls on deaf ears and you have to find some other way to decide who to vote for.

And, frankly, their potential for leadership is an excellent criterion.

I personally tend to be an issues voter, and I think the future of the economy makes the next election a vital concern for all Americans.

But I’m in the minority on this, as are all issues voters.

This election, like most others for the past thirty years, is going to be determined on the basis of how the top candidates project their non-political leadership ability.

I’ve said elsewhere that the most important races of 2012 are the U.S. House and Senatorial elections, and I still hold this view.

The presidential election and a lot of local elections are also important, and all of us can do more to make our influence felt.

On a practical note: If your candidate isn’t very “cool,” if he or she is depending only on the issues to win the election, do your best to help promote their case on the basis of leadership!

The outcome and impact of the upcoming elections depend on it.


odemille 133x195 custom Egypt, Freedom, & the Cycles of HistoryOliver DeMille is the founder and former president of George Wythe University, the chairman of the Center for Social Leadership, and a co-creator of Thomas Jefferson Education.

He is the author of A Thomas Jefferson Education: Teaching a Generation of Leaders for the 21st Century, and The Coming Aristocracy: Education & the Future of Freedom.

Oliver is dedicated to promoting freedom through leadership education. He and his wife Rachel are raising their eight children in Cedar City, Utah.


  1. Tom DeWinter says

    I would agree that the “cool” vote or the “leadership thing” has swung the vote in recent years.

    However I’m having trouble swallowing the “cool” factor and “leadership” being the same.

    Sure it was “cool” for some voters to vote for the 1st African American to become President.

    Leadership on the other hand is generally earned and has to be supported or proven with a track record.

    Obama for existence could be argued was “cool” to vote for, but he also demonstrated absolutely zero historical leadership performance or results. He often simply voted “present” and never even took a stand, never ran a business and the largest thing he self acknowledged that he has ever “run” was his campaign for President. And look at the result of electing this “cool” cat. You can see the lack of leadership on a daily basis. “Leading from behind” was even a bragged about strategy with Libya. He did not “lead” the passage of the health care reform bill so much as it was forced down the throats of the American public.

    Clinton was “cool” to vote for and was slick and smooth and many women swooned. Yet look at the result of that, a sexual scandal in the White House. Sure he coasted on the surge of the dot-com bubble and the brief “peace dividend” after the fall of the Berlin wall and the USSR.

    I guess what I’m having trouble with is that I do think that recent events of the “cool” voters is in fact immature and frankly it is dangerous. It is dangerous because as you point out it is so real.

    “Man on the street” interviews frequently show that many voters do not even know who they are voting for, let along the issues. (maybe this is your point, they are NOT attuned to reality just a gut feel) One interview I saw asked voters if they thought Obama’s choice of Palin as VP was a smart choice and many voters raved about how great a choice it was! And they voted!!!!!! They didn’t even know that Palin was with McCain. But they were feeling so “cool” because anything the soon to be first black president said was “cool” and they wanted to make sure they were in the “cool crowd”.

    This lack of voter knowledge and naivety is dangerous to our country for the very reason you state. That it is real and it is THE deciding factor. And that should concern if not scare all of us!

    Maybe Romney should parley his being Mormon as being “cool”. Apparently being a success as a business leader and governor and having proven history and success turning troubled businesses and Olympics etc. is not “cool” anymore. But somehow community organizing to get people to rally’s and stir up trouble is “cool”. And maybe THAT is part of societal problem we have today. Fame and “coolness” is what is important, not proven results.

    This fame/coolness also tends to explain why so many young people post facebook things and videos of themselves on the internet. Because for awhile they are “cool”. Until someone else or even themselves are hurt in the process. But the lure to “fame” and “cool” and to be a part of the “in crowd” or be with the “cool kids” or group is too strong. Like a moth to a flame. And we all know what happens to the moth!

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