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American voters value honesty over strength in future president

Americans look for honesty over strength when voting for a president according to new research from LSE.

A unique electoral psychology research initiative(1), led by Dr Michael Bruter and Dr Sarah Harrison, reveals that 32 per cent of American voters rank honesty as the most important quality they would like to see in a future president. The next most highly ranked quality was ‘intelligence’ which was selected by 31 per cent of voters. ‘Common sense’ and ‘experience’ were chosen by nine per cent and ‘strength’ by just seven per cent.  

Two thousand Americans were surveyed last week (20 - 24 October 2012) as part of the initiative. They will be re-interviewed just after the election in an attempt to understand what goes on in the mind of voters and the importance of their personality, memory and emotions in their vote. The surveys are being carried out, on behalf of the project, by Opinium Research.

Mt RushmoreThe survey results revealed that 29 per cent of respondents reported that they had previously changed their mind about who to vote for on the day of a presidential election. Previous research by the initiative suggests that 20-30 per cent of voters will change their minds or finalise their decision about who to vote for between now and the time they vote.

Twenty five per cent of voters said that they had cried because of an election – through anger, sadness or happiness.

Dr Michael Bruter said: “While political commentators focus on whether Barack Obama or Mitt Romney is more convincing and what the two parties stand for, they miss the fact that on November 6 Americans won’t only vote with their heads but also their hearts. Our research looks at what elections represent for citizens – and surprisingly little is known about that.”

The research found that 71 per cent of American citizens remember an election from their childhood and 82 per cent remember the first election they voted in. Three in ten Americans remember an argument they have had about a past election and 78 per cent said that voting feels important to them.

Other findings from the survey include:

  • 60 per cent of Americans say that they are excited when they go to vote. 50 per cent also say that they feel happy when they are in the polling booth casting their vote, against only 2 per cent who feel sad at the same time (48 per cent say they are neither happy nor sad).
  • 78 per cent of Americans claim to be excited during election nights, and 63 per cent say that election night makes them feel emotional.
  • However, 53 per cent of Americans also say that they tend to feel worried during election night.
  • The project developed a model of ‘voter identity’ that distinguishes between voters who behave as ‘referees’ and ‘players’. Referees are quite detached in election and see them as a time when they need to arbitrate between various competitors, while players see themselves as part of a ‘camp’ which they want to win the election. The findings show that the USA electorate is split almost equally between referees and players, with a slight majority of the former.
  • The results show that only 52 per cent of Americans intend to vote in polling stations on the day of the election, while 17 per cent intend to vote in advance and 23 per cent intend to mail their ballot.
  • Only 19 percent agreed that, on the whole, US politicians are ‘rather good’.
  • 67 per cent of Americans believe that democracy works quite well in the USA. However, less than 40 per cent believe that society has progressed over the past 50 years, and only 12 per cent believe that their children will probably live a happier life than their own generation.
  • 47 per cent of American citizens agree that the school system of the country is ‘a big failure’ and 36 per cent believe that the country has accepted the idea of ‘diversity’ so much that ‘the USA is now incoherent’.
  • 51 per cent of Americans believe that the USA is not as important as it used to be and that the country’s destiny is now decided elsewhere.

Hundreds of in-depth interviews are also being undertaken as part of the research and two hundred American voters have been recruited to keep ‘election diaries’ to note down their thoughts about the election over a three week period. The team will also conduct hundreds of ‘on the spot’ interviews on election day.

Posted: Wednesday 31 October

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