Arnold Schwarzenegger's Electoral Prospects (posted
August 7, 2003)
Don't underestimate Arnold Schwarzenegger's electoral prospects.
Although many see him as a vacuous Hollywood celebrity with no
substance behind him, voters have demonstrated a penchant in
California and elsewhere for "white knight" outsiders promising
to clean the house of establishment politicians.
With voters being very cynical about career politicians and when
things are screwed up (70 percent of Californians say the
state is headed in the wrong direction), outsider candidates
do very well. By appealing to disaffected voters and those from
outside the mainstream, such as new voters and political independents,
these kinds of candidates can win.
Celebrities such as Schwarzenegger bring several strengths to
the electoral process. They are well-known, well-liked, trusted,
have the ability to raise money quickly, and have no trouble
attracting media attention (especially important in a crowded
field). Of course, Schwarzenegger will find the political press
much tougher than the Hollywood reporters who suck up to celebrities.
The mainstream press will probe Schwarzenegger's past for any
skeletons. However, Bill Clinton has lowered the bar so far for
politicians that things people found shocking a decade ago will
no longer be so damaging.
What Schwarzenegger has to do is pass voters' credibility test.
He doesn't have to be a policy wonk. Indeed, voters generally
don't go for the smartest candidate in the field. But he does
need to demonstrate enough substantive knowledge that voters
feel comfortable trusting the future of the state to him.
He clearly is articulate and already has demonstrated extraordinary
facility in relating to people and dealing with the press. These
are the kinds of traits that earned Reagan the moniker as a "Great
Don't be surprised if Schwarzenegger surprises the experts and
becomes the next governor of California. After all, this is the
state that gave us George Murphy, Ronald Reagan, and Sonny Bono!
Darrell West is the John Hazen White Professor of Public Policy
And Political Science at Brown University and the author of
11 books, including Celebrity Politics and Patrick Kennedy: The Rise to
Power. He can be reached at Darrell_West@brown.edu.