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Taking Our Emotions to the Polls

Posted by Victoria Young on Wed, Nov 02, 2016

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Whether you support Trump, Clinton, or neither, there’s no denying the 2016 race to the White House has been an emotional one.  Voters of all stripes are feeling a range of emotion from fear and anxiety to anger.

But why should a market researcher care about the emotional aspects of the election?  Because in elections, just like market research, emotions play a key role in determining future behaviors. For example, research suggests that voters’ feelings towards a candidate strongly influence not only who they’ll vote for, but if they’ll vote at all (Valentino et al., 2011; Finn and Glaser, 2010).american-flag-1.jpg

We know emotions impact voting behavior, but what’s the best way to gauge voter sentiment?  Should we look to social media?  Should we turn to neuroscience (biometrics such as fMRIs and EKGs)? In our client work, we take a quantitative approach to emotional impact analysis (CMB’s EMPACT℠) that measures brands’ emotional impact on consumers. Since Trump and Clinton have each built their own distinctive “brand” throughout the 2016 election, campaign managers might consider a quantitative “explicit” approach to measuring this aspect of consumer (and voter) decision-making. A quantitative methodology can:

  • Provide a quick and systematic approach to gathering big data: Quantitative analyses, like EMPACT℠, are both fast and systematic, allowing for target market/segment group comparisons that can be tracked over time. This method is ideal for a campaign manager looking to measure the sentiments of his or her candidate’s supporters.  The more information that we have about the American public, specifically those connected to voting behavior, the better insight we have into the emotional battleground that is a contentious campaign.  It’s also helpful to track voter sentiment over time to pick up on changes (e.g. October surprises) at specific junctures.
  • Compare the emotions a brand (or candidate) activates to those of their relevant competitors: Respondents might be asked to rate how a recent and relevant experience with a brand/product made them feel. This approach helps to determine a variety of emotions from basic (e.g., happiness and sadness) to social and self-conscious (e.g., pride and embarrassment). Applied to the presidential election, a quantitative approach could help determine who voters considered the “winner” of the three debates. We can look beyond the facts and policies and compare the emotions elicited by each candidate. Because presidential debates are key voter decision points, it’s imperative to track how citizens perceived each candidate’s performance beyond anger or fear.
  • Identify which emotions drive key outcomes (e.g., consideration, loyalty): After determining which emotions are activated by a specific brand/product, it’s possible to identify which are the most important for driving decisions and outcomes. Instead of focusing on polling numbers and predicting forecast stats, campaign managers could try to understand why voters have chosen a specific candidate.  Which specific emotions are motivating voter turnout? Another use of this information is to see if emotional drivers differ by segment.  How do Republicans feel about a specific candidate vs. Democrats and Independents? A strategic candidate would look at the specific emotions that drive voter support for or against them.

In the US, voter turnout hovers around 60%.  Because researchers have found that emotional sentiment is linked to voter turnout, it’s an important part of the puzzle.  If campaigns could measure how their constituents really feel during the election process, they could more effectively tailor their campaigns to elicit the kinds of emotions that translates into votes.

Like all brands, candidates are selling themselves to the public.  A smart candidate should take advantage of techniques that will help inform how they should present themselves to voters.  But no matter how you feel towards either candidate or the election in general, go out and make a difference by rocking the vote on November 8th!

 Victoria is an Associate Researcher at CMB.  She loves to eat any kind of pizza, travel to (somewhat) exotic places, and couldn’t have written this post without Spotify.

Learn More About EMPACT℠

Topics: EMPACT, emotional measurement, growth and innovation