Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Blogger Candidate Forum: Feelings Can Sway Votes

http://www.citylab.com; April 26, 2018


Hello Everyone:

It is a gray Wednesday and time for the weekly edition of Blogger Candidate Forum.  News of the day: Would you believe seventeen United States senators (all Republican, naturally) have officially nominated Mr. Donald Trump for a Nobel Peace Prize?  Seriously.  Why, you may ask.  For supposedly bringing North and South Korea together to formally end the Korean Conflict.  If, and this is Yuge if, this president should win (it would basically take an act of divine intervention) he would be the fifth president to win the prize.  Insert face palm and loud groan.  Other news, principal Trump attorney Ty Cobb has resigned from the legal team, citing retirement.  Okay, whatever.  The tantalizing possibility of Mr. Trump being interviewed by Special Consul Robert Mueller seems to grow every day.  Will it happen?  Will Mr. Mueller have to subpoena the president?  Specifically, will his new lawyers allow the president to sit for the interview?  Remember, this is person who is prone to doing whatever he wants with no regard for the consequences.  It is enough to make anyone, regardless of political affliation, want to curl up in the fetal position, under a table, and cry.  Since Yours Truly is not part of the president's legal team (thus maintaining her sanity), she prefers to write about unhappy voters.

Special Consul interviews aside, did voter unhappiness help elect Mr. Trump?  This is the question Richard Florida asks in his CityLab article "How Unhappiness Help Elect Trump."

Like a lot of American voters, Blogger woke up the day after Election Day with a feeling of dread, mixed with exhaustion from blogging the results all night long.  Really.  Once Blogger had a chance to process the results, a couple of thoughts crossed her mind: First, maybe things will not be so bad. Blogger might have been a wee optimistic.  Second, what would have happened had former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was elected?  Would there have been protests in the streets like the ones that occurred after the election of Mr. Trump?

This thought is borne out in newly release polling data (news.gallup.com; Apr. 25, 2018; May 2, 2018) which studied the link between partisan voting and well-being.  Mr. Florida reports, "Gallup's analysis is part of a study done in partnership with researchers at the Yale School of Medicine and the University of Cincinnati College, and originally published in the journal PLOS ONE (journals.plos.org; Mar. 12, 2018 date accessed May 2, 2018)."  The study found that districts voted for Mr. Trump were those with residents who experienced the least improvement in their happiness or satistifcation under President Barack Obama, whereas, the district that voted for Madame Secretary experienced the highest levels of improvement in their well-being during the Obama administration.

The results are based on over 175,000 interviews conducted in 2016 with Americans in more than 3,000 counties, in all 50 states and Washington D.C.

Conventional wisdom is that Mr. Trump tapped into the growing feelings of anger and anxiety, particularly in Caucasian working-class voters outside of large urban areas.  However Mr. Florida points out, "But like the presumption that the results of the 2016 election were about economic hardship (theatlantic.com; Apr. 23, 2018; date accessed May 2, 2018), this seems to be myth more than reality."

Counties that saw the biggest uptick in Trump voters "were not appreciably more likely to have residents who reported higher levels of anger and worry."  To the contrary, districts that swung towards Madame Secretary experienced slightly larger shares of anger and worry than districts that skewed Red.  Be that as it may, districts that went Blue also had greater shares of happiness and fulfillment than those that went from Mr. Trump. If you go to http://www.citylab.com; April 26, 2018 you can check out a table by Gallup, "Positive Daily Emotions, But Not Negative Emotions, Predict County Shifts in 2016 U.S. Presidential Election Relative to 2012 Election."  Richard Florida breaks down the table,

"...As seen in the rows of the table, the researchers grouped U.S. counties into six clusters based on the change in their vote for president from 2012 to 2016.  The spectrum ranges from a gain of more than 10 percentage points for Republicans voters in 2016 to a Democratic grain of more than 10 points."

Feelings are not facts.  The fact is there is no tangible "relationship between negative day-to-day emotions and political shifts seems to contradict the notion that high levels of anger, stress, and worry are what led to Trump's election."

Instead, the research presented evidence indicating that a person's overall view of their life, and not solely their daily experiences, powered the big vote swing in the previous presidential election.  No surprise, the districts that saw the largest increases in Republican presidential candidate between 2012 and 2016 were populated by who reported greater dissatisfaction with their lives and pessimism about the future.

Additionally, residents in districts that experienced the greatest increase in Republican voting did not report greater levels of dissatisfaction with their lives; to the contrary, they reported lower levels of improvement since 212, even though things improved (news.gallup.com; Aug, 30 2018; date accessed May 2, 2018) among all adults across the country over the same period.  Mr. Florida observes, "By constrast, counties that saw the largest jump in votes for the Democratic candidate reported above-average levels on both metrics."

You can check out another table at http://www.citylab.com; April 26, 2018, "Current Life Satisfaction and Future Optimism Predict County Shifts in 2016 U.S. Presidential Election Relative to 2012 Election," breaks down the number of residents who expressed higher satisfaction with their current lives and optimism about the future, across six groups of voters.  In districts where the 2016 vote leaned Republican  by 10 or more percentage points from 2012, "only 61 percent of residents reported a high level of satisfication with their current life, and 58 percent reported high levels of optimism for the future."  At the opposite end of the scale, "the counties where the vote swung Democratic by 10 or more we presentage points, 73 percent of residents reported a high level of satisfaction with their current life and 72 percent reported a high level of optimism for the future."

The column labeled "Current life satisfaction," (citylab.com; Apr. 26, 2018) describes "the percentage of people who ranked their current life satisfaction between 7 and 10 on a scale of 1 to 10.  The 'Future life optimism' column shows the percentage of people who ranked their optimism about the future between 8 and 10."

The same pattern holds in the table "Change in Current Life Satisfaction and Future Life Optimism Predeicts County shifts in 2016 U.S. Presidential Election 2012 Election (Ibid)," which tracks the percentage change in current life satisfaction and optimism for the future across six major voting demographics.

The numbers break down as follows: 

"In counties where Trump increased the Republican share of votes by more than 10 percent, current life satisfaction improved by just 1.7 percent, and optimism for the future improved by just 1.6 percent. But in counties where Clinton gained more than 10 percent over Obama, current life satisfaction had improved by 2.7 percent and optimism for the future by 3 percent."

Anger, anxiety, and worry were not the main drivers of big vote swings, rather lingering feelings of unhappiness and pessimism about the future.  This sense of unhappiness with the current conditions and unease about the future are driving the voters.

The link between levels of happiness and vote swings is something that all politicians, pundits, and every Americans should pay attention to, especially in the current climate of declining levels of happiness.  Another Gallup poll (Ibid; Mar. 20, 2018) from earlier this year, "America saw the largest the year-over-year drop in well-being between 2016 and 2017 in the 10 years that Gallup has tracked this data."  What does it mean for anyone anticipating a #bluewave in 2018 and the White House in 2020?  The answer lies in translating feelings into votes.  It is like this, when voters are happy, they want mommy--a candidate who is nurturing and loving--when they are unhappy, they want daddy--a candidate who will protect them.  Just remember that feelings are not facts but they can sway votes.