Likeable Incompetence

Perhaps we should remember that the Oval Office requires more than celebrity.

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President Barack Obama embraces former President George W. Bush after he spoke at the dedication of the George W. Bush presidential library on the campus of Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Thursday, April 25, 2013.

Yesterday, Gallup released an analysis of some of its survey data, noting that, "Although Americans rate President Barack Obama highest on being likable (76%) among a set of personal characteristics, those views are not strongly related to their overall approval of the job he is doing as president." Obama's average job approval rating in June was 47 percent. Nice guy; not a great president.  

Sound familiar?

Sounds like George W. Bush. Prior to Hurricane Katrina in the summer of 2005, as President Bush's job approval was falling to new lows (mid to low 40s), he was still thought likeable. Even though Obama's numbers show that he's currently more likeable than Bush was that summer (e.g., a NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey found that about 61 percent of Americans considered him "easygoing and likeable"), one has to wonder whether "likeability" can sustain his presidency.

Pew Research Forum's report, "One-Word Impressions of George W. Bush, Barack Obama During Their Second Term," suggests it won't. For while Bush and Obama were mirror opposites on such likeable traits as "honest" and "good" (31 and 18 versus 18 and 34), they earned nearly the same numbers on the negative trait "incompetence" (26 and 27). And what's worse is that more offered up the term "liar" than "leader" for both men.

[Check out our editorial cartoons on President Obama.]

Yet over the last four presidential cycles, countless polls have shown that the more likeable candidates earn more electoral support from the public. Pundits aplenty have argued that the losing candidates had "likeability" deficits. Al Gore was too brainy. John Kerry was too distant. John McCain was too mean. Mitt Romney was too elitist. And during the primaries, we heard that Hillary Clinton was too cold and Newt Gingrich was too arrogant.

Bush and Obama were more likeable, more relatable, more down-to-earth, or as focus groups found, more someone we'd want to have a beer with or have as our neighbor.

Given our experience over this last dozen or so years, perhaps in 2016, we'd be wise to stop turning presidential campaigns into popularity contests. The Oval Office requires more than celebrity.

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