When you stand behind the polling curtain in November and mark who you want for president, you will likely make your decision based on a number of things: the candidate’s political party, stances on social issues, voting history, personality. But another matter may be on your mind, too: Whom do you trust?
That trust is a complicated emotion, based on your belief that the candidate you choose will not only do what he says but do the right thing. It’s based on your belief that the candidate you choose has the ability to handle the job and that he has values and character you respect.
Based on their poll numbers, both Republican candidate and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney and Democratic candidate President Barack Obama have to build up America’s trust. To do this they have to be clear about their plans.
Like any good leader does, Romney has to explain the reasons for his previous decisions, in order to encourage more openness. Though he is accomplished and determined, he carries an image of a lack of conviction, largely because he has changed his position on many major issues, including abortion, “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, gun control, health care reform and climate change. If he has honestly changed his mind, he should explain how he arrived at his new, more conservative views.
Romney’s image of reliability has also suffered because of his vagueness on a variety of policy issues. He carries clout as a former CEO, but how, exactly, will he improve the economy more effectively than President Barack Obama? He says he wants to lower taxes and make up the cost by closing tax loopholes, but which loopholes? How does he plan to pay for increasing military spending? To earn trust, he needs to be clear about not just what he wants to do, but how he wants to do it.
Obama, as he showed in his speech at the Democratic National Convention, has to build trust by being honest about the last four years and laying out a clear path for how he will work with Congress. His re-election battle is a tough one after the nation’s extraordinary economic challenges, and it’s unrealistic to expect a recession to be fixed in a few years. But he cannot use the economy as an excuse. He must, just as Romney must, show voters specific ways the country will mend.
Drawing people back — getting them to trust him again — will involve Obama building a mutual sense of purpose. As he said in his speech on Thursday night, the election is not about him but you. He’s right. People need to feel like they’re fighting for something larger than themselves. That inspiration, though, must be rooted in the clarity of concrete goals.
Both Ann Romney, at the RNC, and first lady Michelle Obama, at the DNC, raised the issue of trust, each asking voters to trust their husbands. “You can trust Mitt. He loves America,” Ann Romney said. “I love that we can trust Barack to do what he says he’s going to do, even when it’s hard — especially when it’s hard,” said Michelle Obama.
Michelle Obama captured the definition of trust: It’s earned by making tough decisions that might not necessarily benefit your position of power, whether you’re a former CEO or president. Obama may have lost the shine and enthusiasm generated by his historic election in 2008. Romney may be struggling with his likeability factor. Both need to get specific to overcome their political shortcomings and earn voters’ trust.