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How important is likeability in a municipal election? Experts and Winnipeggers weigh in

Click to play video: 'Are voters focused on candidates’ likeability?'
Are voters focused on candidates’ likeability?
A political science professor says the likeability of candidates will play a huge role in how Winnipeggers cast their vote October 26. Rosanna Hempel reports. – Oct 7, 2022

From collaboration to competence, these are some of the skills that attract us to politicians.

But are they likeable? Experts say it’s also important when electing candidates.

“How we feel about somebody else gives us clues into how they might behave when they actually have the job of mayor,” Memorial University political science professor Amanda Bittner told Global News on Friday.

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“Somebody’s ability to have a conversation, to make you feel like you’re being listened to, to be compassionate, to have empathy — these are all really good indicators of how they’re going to behave when they’re in office.”

Personality plays an even bigger role at the municipal level, Bittner said. Christopher Adams with the University of Manitoba agrees.

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He says mayoral hopefuls are riding more on their character in the absence of political parties.

“People who run for mayor are running on their reputation and on the people they can get behind them, to back them … which is different than running in a provincial and federal election,” Adams, an adjunct professor in political studies, told Global News on Friday.

Adams says elections at these latter levels of government depend more on a party’s brand, platform and leader — a sentiment shared by some Winnipeggers like Alex Kraus.

“Familiarity is a really big aspect,” Kraus said. “I think likeability is a really (attractive) feature because it’s what gets people hooked … for that initial impression, and the policies sort of keep people there.”

“Likeability is how you draw someone to that candidate in the first place.”

Each Winnipeg mayor in recent memory has brought different dimensions and strengths to the job, Adams said.

However, certain qualities stand out to him when it comes to successful candidates: an ability to collaborate, competence, a concern for residents and likeability.

“Do you feel that that candidate will be able to run the finances, to negotiate with CUPE 500, to do all the things that a mayor has to do?”

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Biases, societal stereotypes influence likeability

As a diverse and multicultural city, Adams says most Winnipeggers expect their candidates to at least embrace that richness, if not represent those parts of society.

Even so, Bittner cautions that a voter’s biases and societal stereotypes still influence what traits they consider likeable in different types of people, depending on things like age, race and gender.

These ideas can conflict with people’s beliefs about the qualities leaders should have like assertiveness and experience, she continued.

“These things conflict with our stereotypes about women, for example, where they’re supposed to be gentle and caring and nurturing, and therefore, that’s weak,” Bittner said.

“If you are a woman candidate who’s running for office, you have to sort of straddle this fine line between fitting the stereotype of woman and fitting in the stereotype of leader.

Advance voting is already open at select locations throughout the city.

A new mayor will replace Brian Bowman after Election Day, October 26.

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