The Obama Campaign’s Secret Weapon: Psychologists
The Obama campaign used a social science "dream team" to win the election.
Posted Nov 13, 2012
The New York Times reported that the Obama campaign sought the assistance of a “dream team” of behavioral scientists to help them win the U.S. Presidential campaign. Included in the consortium of advisors were social psychologists Robert Cialdini and Susan Fiske, along with other psychologists from business schools, behavioral economists, and political scientists.
Drawing on research from social psychology, persuasion, and decision making, the dream team consortium contributed ideas for the Obama team. For example, Dr. Fiske emphasized that a successful candidate has to convey both competence and warmth in order to have appeal to voters. Using the idea of “commitment and consistency” (based on cognitive dissonance theory), it was suggested that the Obama campaign volunteers not just ask about intentions to vote for Obama, but encouraged them to make a specific plan on how to get to the polls, and designate a specific time.
In dealing with the right wing claim that Obama was a Muslim, it was suggested that an affirming, competing message would be more effective than simply denying the claim. The Obama campaign apparently took this advice to heart and repeatedly emphasized that Obama is a Christian.
As the article notes, it is interesting that for decades political campaigns have used advertising and sales professionals, but rarely sought the assistance of psychologists and social scientists. It is reported that the Romney campaign did not show interest in behavioral scientists’ assistance – not surprising given the Republican emphasis on reducing funding for scientific research generally, and social science in particular.
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