We interviewed Dr. Wish, a noted psychologist, political coach and best-selling author. Wish shared with Cygnal valuable insights on what makes a successful candidate and how emotions play into voter choice.
1. What makes a successful candidate?
A successful candidate is one who is able to plug into the gut of the voter. People vote with their gut, not their brain.
Voters look for 3 emotion-based qualities when they are deciding whom to vote for:
- This candidate likes me
- This candidate understands me
- I trust this candidate
If a candidate overlooks these three key qualities, they risk losing their election.
A candidate’s first impression, nonverbal cues, facial cues, appearance, and word choices are some of the major elements of their emotional optics that will make voters either like them, feel understood by them or distrust them. Voters want to know if the candidate is a friend or foe.
A winning candidate must emotionally bond with the voter. If the candidate wants the vote, they must get the voter to like them and believe they are understood.
2. How do candidates mess up today with voters?
In my book “The Candidate’s 7 Deadly Sins” I outline what I believe are candidate weakness sins and strength virtues.
Candidates make a big mistake assuming that today voters want policy over a person.
Candidates need to turn their sins into virtues:
- OPTIMISTIC not PESSIMISTIC
- AUTHENTIC not CANNED
- DECISIVE not TENTATIVE
- DELIBERATE not REACTIVE
- EMPATHIC not CEREBRAL
- HUMBLE not ARROGANT
- AGILE not RIGID
Because candidates often lack emotional intelligence (EQ) they tend to gaffe. They lose focus and say or do things that are inappropriate, incoherent or even outrageous. Biden is the perfect example.
3. What are voters looking for in today’s political environment?
Voters are looking for a candidate who understands someone like them. They want a candidate who is transparent and authentic, shows empathy, finds commonalities with them, and demonstrates optimism, compassion, strength, and warmth.
4. How do emotions play into voter choice of candidate?
Consistently, it’s emotion that drives voters’ enthusiasm, engagement, and preferences. Politics takes place in the “marketplace of emotions.” Prof Nathan Hollinsaid of Tufts University says “both positive and negative emotions play a crucial role in voter behavior. They influence whom we decide to vote for, affect our willingness to participate in the political process, and shape our attitudes about politicians.“
The specific emotions of ANGER, ENTHUSIASM and ANXIETY have been found to be important motivators of voting behavior.
Angry voters are more apt to turn out to vote, attend campaign events, volunteer for political campaigns. Being enthusiastic will increase participation in the political process. Enthusiastic voters are more likely to attend campaign events and go to the polls to vote. They watch more news, televised political events. They are more tribal and partisan.
Anxiety does not increase voter participation. However, it causes voters to change their preferences and beliefs. When voters feel anxious about their economic security, they look to policies that address immigration, national security and taxes. Anxious voters don’t like incumbency or tribalism. They’d rather vote for challengers or political newcomers.
5. What are the main things republicans need to do today to gain the edge to get elected today?
Today, voters want to be heard and understood and to feel safe and secure. Storytelling is the republican candidate’s best weapon for emotionally connecting with voters. Stories make up 65 percent of our conversations. Humans are hardwired to communicate through narrative and stories told well will bond the voter to the candidate by releasing a neurotransmitter called oxytocin or the “love hormone.” Simply telling a good personal story gets the entire brain humming and aligns the listener’s brain (voter) to the storytellers’ (Candidate). Forming a story based on a candidate’s master narrative (candidate’s life story and experiences, principles, ideals, and vision and focus on what voters need), allows voters to organize the various policy data a candidate will present.
Stories provide context—which connects to a voter’s experience and emotion. The more emotion in the story—positive or negative—the more voters pay attention and the more memorable and meaningful the story message becomes. Messages delivered as stories are up to 22 times more impactful than just the facts. Stories move people to action and are powerful motivators for any political candidate looking to connect to voters.
6. Tell us about your book and what you hope the public’s reaction will be.
I wrote the book for political candidates and politicians to get them to recognize the critical role that emotions play in why people vote for a specific candidate. Traditionally, candidates and campaign teams focus on money, policy, grassroots, polls, and campaign events and too often relegate emotions to the bottom of the campaign strategy. People vote emotionally not rationally so candidates need to be more empathic and relatable if they want to be likable and emotionally connect.
I hope that the public learns from the book what a good candidate looks like—one that will try and meet their needs for security and safety and stability. A candidate that is transparent, real and approachable.