Prof watches for signs of 'emotional intelligence' in candidates

By Kathleen Maclay, Public Affairs

29 NOV 2000 | While much of the election spotlight is now aimed at what the lawyers do and what the courts decide, Assistant Professor Jack Glaser says the race for the presidency continues to be a natural for testing the candidates' emotional intelligence. The professor at the Richard and Rhoda Goldman School of Public Policy believes the emotionally intelligent candidate knows where and when to display the right emotion for the optimal public response. History bears this out, he said, citing examples including:

  • Edmund Muskie - too much emotion;
  • Michael Dukakis - not enough;
  • Bill Clinton - just right;
  • Al Gore, who, said Glaser, should have won big points on issues and experience - suffering from his rigidity;
  • George W. Bush - benefitting from his casual manner and likeability.

The current tense political situation is further testing both candidates, who are under the watchful eye of the public, the media, and experts like Glaser.

So how emotionally intelligent are Bush and Gore?

"It's hard to tell because they're both keeping a pretty low profile," Glaser said. "Emotional intelligence has more to do with how they feel and behave, and the impact of their emotional display can only be assessed if they display some."

Low visibility may reflect some emotional intelligence, since any statement on the part of either candidate likely will be construed as self-serving, said Glaser. But he theorized that such behavior probably is more strategic than psychological, having more to do with handlers than with the candidates themselves.

"This situation is an emotional powder keg, and they're both smart for lying low," Glaser said. "With things happening so fast and with so much tension and scrutiny, if one of them said the wrong thing or displayed the wrong emotion (e.g., spite or anger or dismay) right now, it could blow up in his face."

Glaser said Bush already has hurt himself some by appearing irritated by the situation and acting presumptive about his victory, while Gore has appeared more above the fray by playing football and going to the movies with his family.

"The odd thing is that, with the votes already cast, we're in this strange situation where they can do PR (public relations) harm to themselves and each other, but it probably won't affect the outcome, unless the judges are paying attention to such things and to public outcry," Glaser said.

He has published an extensive review of literature on the topic of emotions in electoral politics, covering everything from how emotions motivate people to vote, to how they influence for whom they vote, and how candidates' emotionality affects people's reactions to them.


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