Looking like the president

A longstanding attack line on Hollande was that he was a sort of vague fat guy. This was silly, in part – his biggest job in politics was running the PS organising machine, and that’s not the sort of thing you do if you’re flaky on details or unwilling to put in the hours. This NYT profile isn’t much cop but does contain something interesting.

He described how no one thought François Mitterrand, France’s first and only Socialist president, had a chance of winning. “Often people told me, ‘Oh, la, la, François Mitterrand, what charisma, what a president!’ But before he became president, they used to call him badly dressed, old, archaic, he knows nothing about the economy.” But the day he was elected, Hollande said, Mitterrand was transformed.

This is true. Back at the end of December, I took issue with the whole notion of being “presidential” on my own blog. I found that the last two occasions there was a change of prime minister in the UK both saw a strongly statistically significant uplift in polling data for the guy who got the job. In 2005, when Tony Blair remained prime minister, there was no such change.

If you want to look like the president, become the president. The qualities we think of as being those of the president are an artefact of the halo effect; we know he or she has them, because we associate them with the office.