As Democratic voters weigh their choices for a nominee to challenge Donald Trump next year, they should take care not to succumb to the “savior” phenomenon. The public tends to develop exaggerated expectations as to what its leaders can accomplish. In a too-common view, if we could only identify the right person for the Oval Office, we could solve our country’s problems.
Candidates recognize voters’ desire for a savior and appeal to it in the way they speak about the presidential role and the results they promise to achieve. Recall, for example, Trump’s declaration that he “alone could fix” the system, or then-candidate Barack Obama’s pledge “to heal the planet.” Projecting strength, conviction, and certainty tends to win the day.