What’s eligibility?

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Electability is the intangible combination of experience, personal charisma, and voter appeal that determines a candidate’s eligibility for political office. Factors such as political experience, personal charisma, and ability to defeat the opposition contribute to a candidate’s electability. It cannot be easily defined, but is an important quality for voters in choosing their representatives.

The US Constitution only requires candidates for political office to meet certain minimum age and residency standards. In theory, any citizen who meets these criteria can run for public office with or without the financial and philosophical support of major political parties. But the reality is that some candidates appear to possess more than just the qualities that resonate with voters. This often intangible combination of experience, personal charisma, and voter appeal is known as electability.

Eligibility is often easier to observe than to define in political circles. A number of qualified candidates from both the Democratic and Republican parties may decide to run for office, but ultimately only a few will be considered eligible. Party leaders would prefer to promote the candidate who demonstrates the most electability, even if that candidate is not the most popular among partisan voters. There are a number of factors that determine the eligibility of a particular candidate, and not all of these factors can be easily delineated.

One factor that determines the eligibility of a particular candidate is overall political experience. Someone who has worked his way up from minor offices to a powerful federal government position may be seen as more electable than a political newcomer, for example. Voters tend to look for evidence that the candidate can handle high-pressure situations and intense political opposition. Experience and personal temperament under pressure can improve a candidate’s eligibility.

Another factor in determining eligibility is the personal charisma and attractiveness of the voter. Modern election campaigning is largely about the perception of candidates as future representatives of the country as a whole. Voters tend to feel more comfortable with candidates they can identify with on a personal level. A candidate who exudes a significant amount of personal charisma or an authoritative image on television may be seen as more eligible than a candidate who does not stand out from the crowd. Many voters in the 1960s chose the more charismatic John F. Kennedy over Richard Nixon, a man who rarely looked comfortable on camera.

Some political pundits define electability as the ability to defeat the other party’s candidate in a general election. A candidate may become very popular within his or her party, but fail to demonstrate a clear advantage over his or her supposed opposition. In this sense, electability is a quality that many people instinctively understand when evaluating political candidates, but it cannot be easily defined. Some political candidates like Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton may be judged unfairly based on their race or gender, but part of the eligibility equation is whether or not a particular candidate will be accepted by the general voting population.

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