Hillary Clinton says it’s not her fault.
In fact, at Wednesday’s Code Conference the twice-failed presidential candidate made the following stunning statement: “I take responsibility for every decision I made, but that’s not why I lost.”
Now, hold your laughter here because she’s right. Hillary’s political and career decisions aren’t the reason she lost. And that’s true even though so many of her decisions were downright terrible from taking massive speaking fees from Goldman Sachs to setting up an non-secure private server, to lying so many times about everything and anything.
But the real reason Clinton lost is the same reason every politician loses: within the first 2-3 minutes of seeing and hearing her, a key number of voters decided they didn’t like her. Remember, this is a woman who has arguably been one of the top 2-3 most famous people in American politics for the last 25 years. So this emotionally-laden reaction to her may not have been unique, but it played out over and over with more than one generation of voters. Hillary lost because she’s Hillary, which is no more or less outrageous than had she won because she’s Hillary.
That’s how we humans work. Whether we’re genuine Einstein-level geniuses or totally uneducated, we make our voting decisions based on feelings and not raw data or rationality.
How do we know this? Science!
In a recent study by Professors Eyal Winter and Esteban Klor, the researchers showed how scientific evidence is mounting that shows that our voting choices are governed more by emotions and less by rationality. This doesn’t mean our voting choices aren’t rational or that it didn’t make sense for people to vote for Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton. But it does mean that emotions play the primary role in the decision and when rational facts back up those emotional choices, it can often be a coincidence.
You don’t have to run to your economic, psychiatric or neurophysiology experts to understand this. People like “Dilbert” creator Scott Adams pointed out Clinton’s persuasion gap compared to Donald Trump way back in 2015. He later explained after the election that facts play a much smaller role in our voting choices than we’d all like to believe.
And as campaign image experts from Dick Morris to Doug Schoen can tell you, Hillary Clinton’s appearance, manner of speaking, facial expressions, and overall demeanor put her at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to igniting the right kind of emotional responses from average voters.
Perhaps the most vivid example of this comes from that infamous picture of Clinton from 2015 where she was seen hiding behind dark glasses and striving to go unnoticed at a Chipotle counter on the campaign trail. It seems hard to believe that someone trying to get elected president would choose such a moment to guard any level of privacy and miss a chance to connect with lower-paid workers. Had that been Bill Clinton, it’s even harder to believe that he wouldn’t have gone behind the counter to take pictures and happily chat with the employees. But Bill Clinton has a winning persuasive personality. Hillary does not.
Is that “fair?” Is that any way to choose who gets to be president? The answers to those questions depend on how you see Hillary Clinton’s supposedly more important decisions as a politician. For those who have that negative emotional reaction to Clinton, her personal conduct serves as part of a confirmation bias to back up that emotional response. For those who aren’t emotionally turned off by Clinton at first sight, there’s a better chance that her much-bashed personal decisions don’t bother them.
And this kind of losing personality isn’t easy to shake. A winning candidate with a more winning personality wouldn’t sit at the Code Conference and come off so obliviously arrogant and utterly without contrition. You can say that’s yet another bad decision, but it’s primarily a product of Clinton’s politically non-viable personality. Her decisions are the fruit of that poison tree.
And here’s another reason why Clinton lost that has nothing to do with her decisions: Barack Obama. In sharp contrast to her, President Obama was and remains personally popular with the majority of American voters. Even voters who decry his policies and the state of the nation as he left office found it hard to show their anger at him personally. Clinton had a tough act to follow not only when compared to President Obama personally, but also in the face of an electorate that wasn’t buying the Obama policies that she was locked into supporting.