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Politics, Bank Ads, and fEMG: How Good People Differ

Much has been written about the different demographics and views that Clinton and Trump supporters hold of our changing nation. Add to that now an indication that Clinton and Trump supporters may also differ in how they process messaging. In a new study, Trump supporters showed higher levels of positive emotional response and lower levels of negative emotional response than Clinton supporters when looking at apolitical bank advertising.

A lot of the press coverage this election cycle has been about handicapping who is ahead and why. The conclusions are often based on survey research which asks people to self-report their voting intentions and provide information about their background and beliefs. Parsing the data demographically, for example, likely Trump voters are reported to be older, with lower incomes and more predominately white. Likely Clinton supporters are reported to be more female, better educated and more ethnically diverse. Beliefs-wise, likely Trump voters are shown as seeing the present worse for them than the past and terrorism as a major problem. Likely Clinton supporters are more likely to say that diversity makes the country a better place to live and to view income inequality as a major problem. A good example of this kind of analysis can be found in this Pew report.

It is not surprising that Trump voters react more positively to Trump ads while Clinton voters react more positively to Clinton messages, but what might be surprising is that we’ve found evidence that the two voting groups may react differently to other types of advertising as well.

We exposed people to a series of bank ads while recording their emotional response using a neuro-physical technique called facial electromyography (fEMG), which measures electrical impulses that take place in the cheek and brow muscles. fEMG is considered the gold standard for measuring emotional valence, the pre-conscious response we have if we like and/or dislike something. As such it is fundamentally different from, and often preferable to, survey research and knob turning systems, both of which rely on conscious thought to gauge a person’s feelings.

As can be seen on the following chart, the fEMG findings showed Trump voters to be more positively activated by the banking ads than Clinton voters while Clinton voters were more “negatively*” activated by them.

One interpretation of what this means is that it shows that a person’s voting preference may not only be influenced by his or her beliefs, but that his or her beliefs may be influenced by how they process information. That is, some people may be more prone to accept what they hear from others without judgment. If, for example, some people are more accepting of assertions, they may be more attracted to messengers that convey information in that matter. People who require more specifics may be more attracted to messengers who deliver messages in that way. This may be another factor helping to explain why Trump appeals to his supporters and Clinton appeals to hers.

We welcome your comments and will let you know if we learn more.

* Negative fEMG is the measure taken from the corrugator muscle, an area of the face in the brow. fEMG practitioners usually consider it a measure of dislike. It has also been used as a measure of mental loading.

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