Anyone currently following the World Cup, Wimbledon, or any of the many sporting events around the world will know the emotional highs and lows that they can produce. But these events wield even more power than we think. According to Andrew Healy from Loyola Marymount University, sports results can even swing the outcome of an election.
In the US, if a local college football team wins a match in the ten days before a Senate, gubernatiorial or even presidential election, the incumbent candidate tends to get a slightly higher proportion of the vote. This advantage is particularly potent if the team has a strong fan-base and if they were the underdogs. Healy’s study provides yet more evidence that voting decisions aren’t just based on objective and well-reasoned analysis, despite their importance in democratic societies. They can be influenced by completely irrelevant events, putting the fate of politicians into the hands (or feet) of sportsmen.
Healy says that a victory by a local team puts sports fans in a generally positive frame of mind. If they approach the ballot box in this way, they’re more likely to think well of the incumbent party, to interpret their past record more positively, and to be more content with the status quo. The same effect, where emotions cross the boundaries between different judgments, has been seen countless times before in laboratory studies.
This article is reposted from the old WordPress incarnation of Not Exactly Rocket Science.
For all the millions that are poured into electoral campaigns, a voter’s choice can be influenced by the subtlest of signals. Israeli scientists have found that even subliminal exposure to national flags can shift a person’s political views and even who they vote for. They managed to affect the attitudes of volunteers to the Israeli-Palestine conflict by showing them the Israeli flag for just 16 thousandths of a second, barely long enough for the image to consciously register.
These results are stunning – even for people right in the middle of the one of the modern age’s most deep-rooted conflicts, the subconscious sight of a flag drew their sympathies towards the political centre.
In some ways, it’s not surprising. The last decades of experimental psychology have shown us that the our conscious view of the world is a construct created by our brain. We simply cannot consciously process the barrage of information constantly arriving through our senses and to save us from a mental breakdown, our brain does a lot of subconscious computing. The upshot of this is that our decisions can be strongly influenced by sights, sounds and other stimuli that we’re completely unaware of. Have a look at this video of mind-manipulator Derren Brown for a classic example of this.
Our political views are no different. In an ideal world, we would base them on a rational consideration of the relevant facts and our own beliefs, but in the real one, subliminal symbols pull on the puppet-strings too. National flags should be capable of this; to many people, they carry a weighty importance out of all proportion to their nature as rectangular sheets of cloth
During elections, what affects our decision to vote for one politician over another? We’d like to think that it’s an objective assessment of many different factors including their various policies, their values, their record and so on. But in reality, voters are just not that rational.
In the past, studies have shown that people can predict which of two politicians will win an election with reasonable accuracy based on a second-long looks at their faces. With a fleeting glance and little purposeful consideration, people make strong judgments about a candidate’s competence, that can sway their final choices. And they do this in a remarkably child-like way.
John Antonakis and Olaf Dalgas from the University of Lausanne found that when judging the faces of potential leaders, the decision-making technique of adults is no more sophisticated than that used by children.