Magazine article Psychology Today

The Hot Seat

Magazine article Psychology Today

The Hot Seat

Article excerpt

DURING A PRESIDENTIAL debate in 1988, Democratic candidate Michael Dukakis received a question about his wife. He responded calmly, evenly, and with a facial expression you'd expect someone to wear when discussing the national budget. The question: "If Kitty Dukakis were raped and murdered, would you favor an irrevocable death penalty?" Dukakis's response, in which he dryly reiterated anti-capital punishment talking points, was widely panned. "He had the most bland, bureaucratic answer, and it revealed a lot about him," says Michael A. Genovese, a leadership scholar at Loyola Marymount University.

As the 2016 candidates enter the whitehot light of the debate stage, could such a moment rock voters' opinions enough to make a difference? In an election season with more than its share of controversial comments, there are reasons to believe that radical shifts in voters' appraisals of the candidates are unlikely.

The public has gotten quite a long look at Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. "People who are paying attention to politics have evaluated them thousands of times, so for them to change their opinion, it's going to take something colossal," says Stony Brook University political scientist Milton Lodge. An unflattering remark is more likely to shape a candidate's image early in his or her introduction to the electorate-as in 2008, when Katie Couric appeared to baffle vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin by asking her which periodicals she read. …

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