Political Parties and Candidates Are Like Brands

Sense of self determines brand loyalty.

Posted Dec 05, 2018

Clipart Library Free Image
Source: Clipart Library Free Image

Despite the many criticisms that President Donald Trump and his administration have received over the last two years — and the latest Gallup poll shows disapproval of him at 60 percent — the president’s supporters remain loyal to him. 

Research on branding suggests that a brand can be part of one’s self-identity. Recent research at Northwestern University examines how consumers respond to negative publicity about a brand. Surprisingly, some consumers liked the discredited brand even more.

In one study, Northwestern undergraduate students were asked about their attitude toward Facebook and the extent to which they identified with the brand. Then they read an editorial about Facebook which contained negative information about the brand.

Finally, they were asked if their opinion about Facebook had become more negative or more positive, or if there'd been no change. Those who identified with the brand and had low implicit self-esteem defended Facebook by liking the brand even more.

Similar reactions happened when the discredited brand was Starbucks. However, when these consumers were asked to reflect on their own standing and accomplishments after reading the negative editorial, they no longer felt compelled to defend Starbucks.

To many voters, the candidates they support have become part of their extended self-identity. Just days before the recent midterm elections, supporters of the president in Georgia, Tennessee, Ohio, Indiana, and Missouri streamed into the president’s campaign events wearing “Make America Great Again” hats and T-shirts, proclaiming their support for Mr. Trump. 

On the Democrat side, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (who received 78 percent of the votes) was seen by her supporters as the “first representative to fully reflect the demographics” of New York’s 14th District. 

Since the midterms, with many contested races now decided, Democrats flipped 39 seats in Congress. Republicans won two Senate seats from Republicans, with the Mississippi run-off pending. 

The way that voters respond to criticisms about the political candidate they supported is similar to how loyal consumers respond to negative publicity about the brand.

When the president is under attack, his supporters defend the president the way they would defend themselves. Indeed, presidential scholars have documented that president’s supporters in general attribute more credit to the president when things go well, but assign less blame to the president when things go poorly.

Looking back in history, President Dwight D. Eisenhower remained popular throughout his presidency, despite the 1960 U-2 incident that led to the collapse of the four-power Paris Summit and the escalation of the cold war.

According to the Gallup Poll, President Ronald Reagan’s personal popularity remained high even as his job approval dropped to 48 percent after the Iran-Contra scandal broke in 1986. And President Bill Clinton’s approval rating jumped 10 points to 73 percent in 1998 in the wake of his impeachment. President Trump is no exception.

To many Republicans, a threat to the president is a threat to the self. And defending the president is one way to defend the self.

William James, the 19th-century philosopher and psychologist who established the psychology department at Harvard University, once opined that “a man’s self is the sum total of all that he can call his, not only his body and his psychic powers, but his clothes and his house, his wife and children, his ancestors and friends, his reputation and works, his lands and horses, and yacht and bank-account. All these things give him the same emotions. If they wax and prosper, he feels triumphant; if they dwindle and die away, he feels cast down, not necessarily in the same degree for each thing, but in much the same way for all.”