Candidates dress and speak to relate to voters

When Doug Ford launched his mayoral campaign, two weeks ago, he wasn’t wearing the Armani suit he often wears at Toronto council meetings. Instead, he’d chosen a gingham button-down shirt with his sleeves rolled up. Adam Giambrone, former Toronto councillor says it’s smart politicking.

“You often notice more established politicians will put on more comfortable shoes and wear khakis, not jeans,” Giambrone said. “Frankly it works to a poorer socio-economic environment than it would in Rosedale.”

Giambrone ran several campaigns while maintaining his council seat from 2003 to 2010.

“My attitude was that you can’t wear shorts, but you can wear khakis and a white dress shirt with the sleeves rolled up,” he said. “That was my uniform for canvasing.”

In the Toronto mayoral race, Olivia Chow and John Tory have also appeared to be dressed down when addressing certain audiences. Tory’s been wearing dress shirts with rolled up sleeves. Chow has worn a red button-up jacket and scarf.
Gaining the favour of different socio-economic voters goes further.

Ronald Wagner works as a professional speech writer. He understands the importance of presenting a message that appeals.

“You need to plan what you are going to say in accordance to who is going to hear it and especially focus on the order,” Wagner said. “It probably isn’t such a bad idea in an electoral speech to put the youth unemployment right before the subway expansion plans (since) students can strongly benefit from both.”

Wagner said it’s wise for candidates to decide their top issues on a situation-to-situation basis, especially when politicians’ one-on-one contact with voters is limited.

“Nobody will remember every point that you say and you’re looking at about a minute, maybe two, to get their vote,” he said. “The good thing about going door-to-door (however) is that you can tailor that message to what they need to hear.”

Dr. Grace Skogstad is chair of the U of T Scarborough Campus political science department. She said there’s a reason candidates choose to dress a certain way when campaigning.

“It’s a tactic for them to appear more like their audience,” she said. “If your audience doesn’t wear a suit every day, you’d probably feel it wasn’t necessary for you to either.”
Skogstad added that much of candidate appeal depends on demeanor.

“Jack Layton, for example, was famous for making people feel good; he was well known for his smile and positive outlook,” she said.