When politicians cry, it never has the the effect on voters that pundits think it will. They think voters will see the tears and believe the show of emotions mean the politician “care”. If only it were that simple, and easy!
There’s a lot of reactions to people when they cry, and the context of a politician crying makes those reactions even more complex. There’s a combination of many things, including: sympathy, support, agreement, embarrassment, awkwardness, and anger.
Given that “crying” is very much about the crier, few, if any, voters conclude that a politician who cries therefore “cares” more about others.
Addendum, April 2012.
Here’s a great collection of political criers assembed by the Guardian, off the back of London Mayoral candidate Ken Livingstone crying at the showing of his campaign video.
Ken’s blubber raises an interesting angle. The mistake pundits make is first interpreting it from a political perception angle. They ask the classic: what will voters think, question – which I answered above.
But the first question should be why did they do it in the first place. It appears to me that it is most often simply a case of the pressure of the job getting to them. Something happens to touch a melancholy nerve, and the dam of public composure breaks. In Ken’s case above, he has been on a campaign, and the past two days had been particularly tough. He had been sworn at by his opponent for raising private tax matters, and public sympathy went with his opponent. Emotionally vulnerable then, Ken watches a heart-string pulling video about himself. The video makes his campaign look to be on the side of the angels… and he’s off.