Families are a Staple on the 2016 Trail

The question is: Are they helping their candidates?

They wave to the crowds on election night, mingle with voters during campaign stops and deliver speeches before packed auditoriums. By the end of a presidential race, a candidate's family members have become just as recognizable as the politician running for office.

The presence of a presidential candidate's spouse and children on the campaign trail is nothing new. Families have played a prominent role in American politics for ages, but as campaigns have transformed in the digital era, so has the importance of family in a politician's public image.

In order to connect with voters, candidates must craft compelling brands online and in-person, especially in a time when people crave sincerity as a character trait. A central aspect of any brand is an individual's personal life and values.

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"The way that campaigns are run now, so largely online and through social media, there's a constant need for new content," says senior Dan Morgan-Russell, host of the student-run debate show Platforum. "An easy way to fill some of that content is with pictures of the wife and kids."

While Morgan-Russell says the American people have "a certain attachment to families," policy remains the main driver of votes.

"Americans vote a lot more along party lines, vote a lot more along certain policy issues, like the economy, than they do on the way your husband or wife is dressed at a campaign rally," Morgan-Russell says.

For some brand-conscious young voters, however, a candidate's authenticity and relatability hold greater weight.

When freshman Cooper Yerby sees a candidate's family on the campaign trail, he can relate to politics on a personal level.

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"When presidential candidates bring their spouses or family members onto the stage, it creates a human impact," Yerby, 18, says. "It makes us realize that maybe they're not the politically-oriented people we thought they were who only care about their own agendas."

The 2016 presidential race has been no stranger to fascinating family dynamics. Democrat Bernie Sanders has looked to his wife Jane as a key political adviser, while Republican Ted Cruz has recruited his young daughters to star in controversial campaign ads. During the final weeks of his campaign, Republican Jeb Bush, who once sought to dissociate himself from his brother George W. Bush, summoned the former president and first lady to appear at a rally.

Donald Trump has proudly flaunted his family of models and entrepreneurs on the campaign trail.

Freshman Mousael Louis says, however, regular voters may have difficulty connecting with Trump's clan, particularly the candidate's wife Melania.

"Melania's presence in Donald Trump's campaign is not beneficial. A lot of people don't tend to take her seriously," Louis, 19, says. "They think she's just a model and she has nothing to offer past her looks."

Perhaps the most intriguing example of family in politics comes from Hillary Clinton's campaign. With Clinton, voters have an opportunity to elect the first female head of state, and one who also happens to be married to a former president.

Dan Schnur, director of the USC Unruh Institute of Politics and former communications director for Sen. John McCain's 2000 presidential campaign, says when a candidate's family member has held a prominent position in government, the individual's impact on the trail becomes less personal in nature.

Schnur says Bill Clinton holds tremendous political influence in his wife's campaign.

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"Older voters in particular have such fond memories of Bill Clinton that he's most certainly an asset to Hillary," Schnur says.

But for young people seeking a fresh face in politics, Bill Clinton's appearance on the trail has been something of a double-edge sword.

Freshman Omair Qureshi finds it difficult to disassociate Hillary Clinton's policies from those of her husband.

"They feel like they're the same person at times," Qureshi, 18, says.

Despite the significance of families on the campaign trail, Schnur says a candidate's personal life hardly influences voting decisions on election day.

"Very few voters are going to make their decision on which candidate they support because of that candidate's spouse or children," Schnur says.

Reach Staff Reporter Maral Tavitian here; follow her on Twitter here.