A Vote for a Challenger Is a Wish, a Vote for an Incumbent Is a Verdict

Dr. Louis Perron
blog post louis

Presidents usually get elected to do (or sometimes not to do) a specific thing. Call it a mandate. They also normally have a limited time window to deliver on it. As long as they are seen at least trying to deliver on it, their approval rating usually stays intact. Take it from me. I have worked for incumbent presidents with rock star high approval ratings and I have been brought in to help after an incumbent president has fallen to his lowest point in the surveys.

In other words: races with an incumbent have a different dynamic than challenger campaigns. When you apply for a new job, you bring your résumé. Your previous education and what you have done in the past are important issues being discussed. Once you are on the job, the dynamics change, however. You don’t bring your résumé when you meet your boss at the end of the year for your evaluation talk. All that matters now is your performance. It’s the same for election campaigns.

I always tell clients that a vote for a challenger is a wish or an investment. A vote for an incumbent, on the other hand, is a verdict. A good illustration for this is when Volodymyr Zelensky ran for president of Ukraine. Voters at the time were extremely unhappy with the status quo and with the incumbent president Petro Poroshenko. At the occasion of the only debate between the two rounds of voting, Zelensky told Poroshenko: I’m not your opponent. I’m your verdict.

Zelensky won the race with 73%.

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