The future of political "baby kissing" is up in the air

Will politicians be willing to kiss babies at rallies following a pandemic? Will parents be...
Will politicians be willing to kiss babies at rallies following a pandemic? Will parents be willing to hand them over? (Source: Gray DC)(GRAYDC)
Published: May. 13, 2020 at 7:58 AM CDT
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As the coronavirus takes a toll on every aspect of American life, the future of political campaigning is murky. With many afraid of random human contact because of possible virus spread, questions linger as to whether kissing babies could be a thing of the past.

“It’s sort of the music of American politics,” said Matt Dallek, a campaign expert and professor at the George Washington University Graduate School of Political Management.

Physical contact has historically brought Americans together with the nation’s top leaders. Between handshakes, selfies, and kissing babies, Dallek says in-person campaigning builds relatability.

“Those kind of personal interactions can matter, right? The so-called field operations,” said Dallek.

But Dallek says during this COVID-19 era politicians are forced to shift to other persuasion tactics. He says they’re doing more local TV interviews, remote town halls, and creating podcasts. Dallek thinks many of these ideas will stick and remain in a post-coronavirus climate. But he believes old school tactics will return.

“Candidates may not be kissing as many babies, maybe they won’t be shaking as many hands, but I think that overall we’re still going to see a reversion to the kind of in-person campaigning,” said Dallek,

It is currently unknown if politicians will want to return to these close-contact practices. If they do, the question is whether lingering memories of the virus will deter followers from showing up.

“People may not be going to the live rallies as much but I wonder if peoples’ voices are going to present themselves in more creative ways,” said Dr. Noshene Ranjbar, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Arizona College of Medicine.

Dr. Ranjbar cautions against generalizing and saying humans will fear physical contact in the future. But she says a pandemic of this magnitude sticks with people in one way or another. The trauma caused by the coronavirus may cause previously social butterflies to cocoon, or at least think twice before entering crowded situations.

“There’s going to be this pull of, you know, what if there are these grandparents who, you know, might still be vulnerable? What if I have it? You know, what if so and so is not watching and not washing their hands and shows up and is coughing all over the place?” said Dr. Ranjbar.

The biggest political gatherings of the year, the national conventions, are postponed until August. As of now, they are slated to take place in person.

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