Commentary: The Santorum look

The Rock Hill HeraldJanuary 27, 2012 

To: Rick Santorum

From: Campaign Consultancy, Inc.

Subject: Losing the Sweater Vest

Results are in from our recent poll of likely voters in the upcoming GOP presidential primaries.

Methodology: Respondents were interviewed about their opinion of the candidates still standing, based on their perceived favorite mode of dress.

Those results were broken down according to standard demographic factors (i.e., age, gender, race, income, education level and profession).

Unfortunately, based on preliminary findings, when asked, "Which candidate would you vote for, based on the clothes he wears?" you came in fourth, slightly ahead of Ron Paul.

As an additional assessment measure, the results were fed into a grid that compared them with how respected experts in the fashion industry assessed the impact of the various GOP candidates' choice of clothing.

Findings: Overall, both likely voters and fashion experts gave thumbs down to the sweater vests you insist on wearing. Here are the results:

Love them - 5 percent

Makes no difference what a candidate wears - 15 percent

Doesn't project a presidential image - 25 percent

Wouldn't be seen dead in one of those things - 55 percent

On the positive side, your sweater vests draw a favorable reaction from certain subgroups of voters, namely:

Fans of Tiger Woods

College librarians

Baptist ministers

55 and older

The problem: Political consultants have long known that issues matter little to voters, especially those who say they are undecided six weeks or less prior to an election.

This segment of the electorate, which comprises between 20 and 35 percent of the universe of people who self-identify as likely voters, makes selections on other, often hard-to-quantify factors, such as:

What a candidate wears

Whether his/her hair instills confidence

The jut of a candidate's jaw

He/she "gives me the creepy jeebies."

Based on those assumptions, we have several thoughts about what commentators are calling the "Santorum Look."

The last major presidential candidate to wear sweaters was President Jimmy Carter, who delivered a now-famous TV address to the nation while wearing a cardigan. This was during the oil crisis of the late 1970s, and he wanted to inspire his fellow Americans to conserve energy by donning sweaters and turning their thermostats down a few degrees.

Subsequent research on the effect of Carter's address indicated that:

12 percent of viewers turned down their thermostats;

20 percent fell asleep;

62 percent changed the channel;

6 percent donated their cardigan sweaters to Goodwill.

What should/shouldn't you wear?

It's important to match your clothes with the image you wish to project.

Experts agree that one big reason voters dumped Cardigan Carter in favor of Ronald Reagan in 1980 was that the former California governor, an ex-movie actor and TV personality, knew how to dress the part. Reagan loved to wear a cowboy hat, boots and jeans, reminding Americans of their fascination with the Old West.

George W. Bush also resonated well with the electorate, in part, because his preferred style included jeans and an open-collar blue work shirt, with the sleeves rolled up.

What he wore signaled that he was a "regular guy," who would rather clear brush on his ranch than wrestle with Congress or hobnob with other world leaders.

You don't want to emulate another Texas governor, Rick Perry. Perry's wardrobe proved to be an embarrassment after social media critics of what they saw as his gay-bashing pointed out that a jacket he wore in campaign commercials was a dead ringer for the one worn by the late Heath Ledger in "Brokeback Mountain," a movie about gay cowboys.

President Barack Obama presents another example of "what not to wear." When he appears in a dress shirt, sans tie, the president comes across as a nerd posing as one of the guys. We think he would be more re-electable if he stuck with dark suits and conservative ties.

Like Obama, we recommend that you choose a wardrobe that best projects the image you are trying to convey to voters.

We suggest you adopt the "Calvin Coolidge Look."

McClatchy Washington Bureau is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

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