Do "Normal People" have any chance of being elected El Presidente/Prime Minister?

Inspired by this thead asking who the last non-millionaire US President was, I have to ask: Do “Normal People”- ie, people who don’t have lots of Connections With Important People and the backing of People With Lots Of Money- have any chance of getting elected President or Prime Minister of a given country (Not necessarily the US, Australia, or the UK)?

My reaction tends towards an Edna Krabapple-esque HA!, but no doubt more politically minded posters out there will disagree…


Simply put: no. Running a campaign costs money, and you need to appeal to people to get them to vote for you, which means that you have to have a certain amount of broad-based support before you even start campaigning.

It is possible to win a local election as a dark horse and work your way up while making a name for yourself, but a national dark horse campaign would be a waste of time and money for all involved.

What the heck do you think Bill Clinton was? He wasn’t some super-well-connected scion of influence. He was a regular guy who set about becoming well-connected and influential. Once he was there he networked and campaigned to begin his political career and played the game so effectively he went all the way.

The same could be said of Ronald Reagan.

Hrm. Not either of the Bushes, though.

Well, the same could be said of Jimmy Carter, but hardly of Reagan.

I disagree that it is, strictly speaking, impossible. Unlikely, yes.

But, for instance, a well run internet/viral marketing campaign might very well get a candidate enough word of mouth as to have a shot at things, maybe even attract enough of a buzz to get corporate sponsors. Unlikely in the extreme, but not impossible.

Well, since you added “not necessarily the US, Australia, or the UK”, then the answer is yes. Happens all the time. Sweden’s current prime minister is one example. Any country that focuses on parties rather than persons are going to have a plethora of examples.

Something like this could conceivably work in a smallish country like New Zealand or somewhere in Europe, perhaps…

Yes, of course. But you have to start really young.

I’ve just looked Sweden’s PM up on Wikipedia - he has been in local or national politics for thirty years, with the usual succession of ministerial jobs leading up to his election as PM.

How can anybody have such a career without gaining “connections” with the local rich and powerful people? Even if he started as an “ordinary person” he would not be such by the time he reached the top.

I don’t see how anyone could have a successful career in politics and stay “ordinary”.

What do you mean by normal? If you mean a person born into an ordinary working-class or middle-class family without connections, then yes – and Bill Clinton is an obvious example. But highly successful politicians typically start early: they will be active in politics in high school and college, then follow a career which keeps them close to politics. So by the time they are in their 20s or 30s they have built up political contacts and experience, so they are no longer “normal”.

(They also are driven by ambition – not only personal ambition, but by an ambition to change the world around them – and that drive is what often gets them to the top.)

Basically, someone who’s not a politician, doesn’t have any “connections”, and doesn’t have access to large amounts of money, either in cash or from “backers”.

In other words, could John or Jane Randomperson, who works in some normal job at Company Ltd, just decide to run for President/PM as an Independent, and have any chance at all of actually winning, assuming their policies are sound?

If those connections count, then I misunderstood the topic. He has been in politics since he was young, which does get you connections in politics, of course.

So we’re talking about some ordinary Joe who decides at the age of fortyish that he wants to get into politics, and wants to go straight to the highest office of the land? Then no, I don’t think that is realistically possible, nor do I think it should be.

God, I hope not.

Politics is a profession, a skill, a craft. Just as I wouldn’t like to be operated on by a surgeon who didn’t go to medical school and has never held a scalpel before, I wouldn’t like my country to be led by someone who doesn’t know his job. If he can’t get rich people to give him money, how could he secure loans for my country? If he doesn’t know how to make connections, how would he manage diplomacy, or get laws passed?

I don’t care how honest, smart, or kind-hearted a politician is, not if he doesn’t know how to do his job. What good are policies if you can’t implement them?

Reagan didn’t come from money or influence. He created it in his lifetime, but he didn’t come from it.

I did a thread on a similar subject a long time ago.

I thought, “what if you really wanted to do a simple campaign? Create a letter describing your views in detail, and send it to every household in America, asking for their vote.” Never mind the expenditure of creating the letter, copying it 108,000,000 times, and stuffing and addressing the envelopes. Postage alone would cost you $42million for first class, $30million if you presorted, which you’d have to pay someone to do.

And someone in marketing came into the thread and offered that direct-mail-only ad campaigns are usually ineffective unless you send the message out at least four times.

A similarly effective amount of TV time probably costs even more.

So we’re talking the outlay of a vast amount of money just to get the message out in a very basic way for a national campaign.

What exactly do we require out of a president/PM?

If your hypothetical average guy doesn’t have the leadership and people skills to become a leader at their average company, why do they think they can run the country?

You’ve gotta have something on the ball before you could be elected president. And we go back to Bill Clinton. Here’s a kid who’s mother and stepfather are average joes. Except young Billy is charismatic and smart as hell, he excells in school, he’s a student leader. He decides on a political career early, gets admission to a top university, gets a job working for a Senator, gets a Rhodes Scholarship, off to Yale law school, marries a well-connected woman from a political family, all the while making friends and influencing people and accumulating clients (in the old Roman sense) runs for Attorney General of his home state, runs for Governor of his home state, wins, loses, wins, runs as a dark horse candidate for president and wins after most of the big names in his party duck out because they thought Bush the First was invincible.

Thing is, if you’re gonna be elected president you’ve gotta have a lot on the ball. Sure, some duds slip in now and then, these are the guys the party leadership picks out, like our current president. Then there are the guys who elbow their way into the presidency, like Clinton. But Clinton isn’t exactly an “average guy”.

Seriously, you look around at the “average guys” around you at work, and you probably wouldn’t trust most of them to run a McDonalds, much less anything important. If that average guy had what it took to be president he wouldn’t be an average guy before he became president…he’d be doing something worthwhile with his talents. If he’s not doing something worthwhile with his talents, or doesn’t have those talents in the first place, why would he make a good president?

Why not Reagan? He had as few, or fewer, connections than Clinton when he started his career. And I always thought Carter came from a fairly prosperous family-- is that not the case?

Yeah, that confused me as well. Reagan sure didn’t come from money or power. Carter had it easier though true wealth and elitism wasn’t his to begin with.

Kennedy and FDR were certainly set up for the good life… No doubts there.

Truman and Eisenhower weren’t, God knows.

I really, really, really like what you’ve said here, and I think you’ve pretty much nailed it all around.

I’ve long since lost count of the number of times I’ve heard people talk about politics as if it were some game with no learned skills or intrinsic virtues. I’d hear politicians being talked about as if they were schmoes who got into politics because they were too stupid to write parking tickets for a living.

A lot of people don’t get that politics in and of itself is incredibly difficult and complicated work. It requires its own brand of intelligence, along with analytic skills, judging by how many important politicians are former lawyers. The comparison with surgeons is quite apt. Politics is both a science and an art form, a fact which Ross Perot found out the hard way.

Your post is also inspiring. I’m sitting here trying to talk myself out of walking off this humdrum, go-nowhere job and finding something that puts my talents to use at half the pay. (OK, no I’m not, but it’s still pretty motivating to go out there and find something better.)

Best post I’ve read in a while.

Of the post-war presidents, only Kennedy and Bush I and II came from politically elite families or very wealthy families. All the rest came from reasonably normal backgrounds, and got into the presidency with a combination of good luck and hard work – mostly hard work.