Of all the issues the press has focused on during the first phase of the general election, the fact that both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have historically high shares of negative ratings with voters plays mostly into Trump’s hand.
In fact, it may actually be making him more electable.
The reason: Much of Trump’s media success historically has been due to the fact he’s a character people love to hate. That’s the assessment of researchers, who are experts in understanding the role both positive and negative attributes play in making public personas successful in media.
“Donald Trump is a personality people love to hate,” explains Henry Schafer, executive vice president of the Q Scores Company, which produces the Q score data used by Madison Avenue and the entertainment and news industries to cast personalities for various media roles.
One of Trump’s greatest assets in the presidential campaign is that most people don’t actually like him. While that may seem counterintuitive, you have to understand the science of media personalities,, That’s where research like the Q ratings comes in.
The Q scores are actually a mathematical quotient derived by dividing the popularity of a personality by the sum of consumers rating the personality across a spectrum from positive (“one of my favorites”) to negative (“poor”).
Not surprisingly, a personality’s familiarity is very important in determining their media success. What may be surprising is that negative perceptions do not necessarily hurt their performance. According to Schafer, it all comes down to consistency.
The logic explains why villains sometimes are among the most popular characters in entertainment -- books, movies, pro wrestling, etc. -- and the same thing is true for non-fictionalized characters in the real world, even if it is just reality television.
Schafer says Q Ratings does not actively track three categories -- politicians, religious leaders and royalty -- so it discontinued tracking Trump’s personality in January 2015, when he officially declared himself as a presidential candidate.
Prior to that, Schafer says the company tracked Trump as a personality and a reality TV star and that he consistently generated high Q scores based largely on his negative ratings. The company has never tracked Hillary Clinton’s Q scores, but Schafer speculated the high degree of unfavorable ratings for her might be a negative in the current campaign, because unlike Trump, it is not consistent with why she is popular.
To understand the role that negative perceptions play in measuring and tracking the success of media personalities, Schafer provides examples of several personalities, including Howard Stern, Martha Stewart and, more recently, the Kardashians -- as examples of enormously popular personas that also have high degrees of negativity associated with them.
What they all have in common, he says, is that they are enormously popular -- in part, because people do not actually like them.
Given current voter polls indicating that both Trump and Clinton are generating record high unfavorable ratings, Schafer says it might be difficult for the Clinton team to combat Trump. In other words, what is a strength for him -- that people actually like disliking him -- might be a negative for Hillary.
Schafer says it is especially difficult for the Clinton campaign because the more outrageous things Trump says about Clinton, the less likely it will backfire and hurt his popularity, so he has little to lose by continuing such attacks.
While the Q ratings do not track political personalities, Schafer speculated that campaign success would likely come down to the way Clinton deals with Trump in the presidential debates.
“If she can stay on message, she can contain him,” he predicts, adding this was something none of Trump’s Republican rivals were able to do during the GOP debates leading up to the primaries.In the end, Schafer says the emotional perceptions of media personalities are powerful influencers for their popularity, but that “consumers are smart enough to separate their perceptions of a personality from the quality of a product they are representing.”