Psychology behind winning an election


COLUMBUS, Ga. – The latest CBS poll shows Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton leading Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.  We are digging deeper into what it takes to win an election in a News 3 special report.

Dr. Brandt Smith with the Columbus State Psychology Department says the influence candidates have over voters depends on which voter you’re talking about.

“When people have a firmly held opinion or an attitude they go into what we call a confirmation bias and that’s a search strategy where we look for information that looks for what we already know to be true and we tend to discount or dismiss information that may be contrary to our opinions,” Brandt said.

It’s swaying voters in the middle that Smith says is more difficult for a candidate to do.

“A candidate not only has to make themselves look better, but they also have to make their opponent look worse,” he said.

His research finds that really negative attacks on an opponent don’t really move voters who are in the middle.

“It can actually turn them off,” he said.

Smith says usually the more charismatic candidate is successful.

“We’re seeing two different charismatic styles of persuasion at play and there’s been a lot of fireworks for it.  And people are emotionally involved in both sides,” he said.

Smith calls President Barack Obama a master at charismatic leadership style by being able to draw in and inspire people while getting them to listen to him.

“Donald Trump has some aspects of that himself.  He’s able to reach out to and grab people that might not have voted otherwise.  Hillary Clinton has her own charismatic style where she’s been able to reach out to people who consider themselves marginalized voters or people in minority groups.  She’s been able to speak to them,” Smith explained.

This election, we not only have two candidates who are very different from each other, but also different from past candidates.  Clinton is the first female presidential candidate from a major party.  Donald Trump, a reality TV star and businessman, prides his campaign on bringing in an outsider to Washington.

“In the current case, it’s interesting seeing their campaigning styles.  As far as keeping the presidency with in the family, it happened with John Adams and John Quincy Adams and George HW Bush and George W Bush.  Going from a husband to a wife, that would certainly be different,” said Tom Dolan with CSU’s Political Science Department.

Smith says both candidates have their own characteristics to draw voters to the poll who might not normally vote.

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