In a cycle where we seem to be staggering from crisis to crisis, campaigns need to be paying attention to what voters are feeling, not just thinking.
To help identify those feelings, political survey researchers are now offering emotive analysis, which is typically done in conjunction with a poll.
At our shop, we do this research by gathering voter opinions through open-ended questions — over the phone and online. We then do an analysis on more than 100 primary and secondary emotions.
Since this data is collected from hundreds or thousands of voters, it’s possible to quantitatively analyze emotions at scale then implement those findings to tweak messaging.
Science tells us humans make decisions using emotions, then seek out facts to justify the decision for their logical brain. So campaigns need to pay attention to intention, not just outcome like “who will you vote for.”
In fact, large commercial brands have been digging into emotional drivers and behaviors for decades, and it's time for political campaigns to catch up.
Why do brands do it? Advertising.
For centuries, ads have targeted our emotions in hopes of eliciting a response to products, services, and people. Promotional ads can be seen on Egyptian papyrus dating back thousands of years. Political ads were found within the ruins of Pompeii. Advertising is, and always will be, inescapable. And with the speeding rate that technology is evolving, advertising has become harder to ignore and much more personal.
While opinions differ on how to create effective advertising, all agree that targeting emotions is the primary goal.
“Advertising”, Don Draper proclaimed on AMC’s “Mad Men,” “is based on one thing: Happiness. … Freedom from fear.”
While Don is correct that many ads are created to make people feel joy, this isn’t always the case in the world of politics. In our world, advertising typically plays to one of three emotions: fear, anxiety, and enthusiasm.
Yet traditional political polling doesn’t seek to figure out what emotions voters are feeling toward a candidate, issue, or in general so such targeting can properly occur.
Political ads change the way voters get involved, and the ballot they cast, simply by using words, images, and music to spur emotion. It’s key that campaigns in 2020, in order to be successful, understand how voters feel, not just think. Once campaigns understand that fear, enthusiasm, and anxiety all lead to separate actions, they can acknowledge and tap into those emotions needed to win their race.
Research has shown, for example, upbeat and positive ads about a candidate evoke a sense of enthusiasm in voters, reinforcing their prior beliefs about that candidate. An enthusiastic voter will more likely be happily voting for the same person they did previously.
A negative ad created to spark fear in the imagination, on the other hand, causes voters to question their prior beliefs about a candidate. If a voter is repeatedly shown an ad that creates a sense of fear, they begin to wonder whether or not this ad is true, which causes uncertainty in their choice of who to vote for. This fear is often followed by research with hopes to uncover facts that prove their feeling isn’t merited.
Finally, advertising that causes a sense of anxiety often stops many voters in their tracks altogether. Don’t want your opponent’s voters to show up at the polls on voting day? Run ads that stir anxiety and research says there’s a good chance that anxiety turns to indecision leading to the voter not voting at all.
So how can a campaign use this knowledge?
Campaigns mistakenly continue to spend more time speaking to logic – rather than emotions. Given the current state of the economy, campaigns this cycle must take a new approach to understanding voters, vote choice, and issue positions by quantitatively analyzing voter emotions at scale. Issues only matter as much as the actual emotions that drive people to care about those issues. As a result, campaigns should seek to understand the "why" not just the "what.”
Brent Buchanan is a CEO and Founder at Cygnal, a national public opinion, predictive analytics, and market research firm.