As a licensed clinical psychologist involved in local campaigns, I have long advocated that political candidates and their advisors utilize the social sciences, psychology in particular, to promote and to protect candidates and campaigns. The Obama campaign apparently recognized not only the importance of science, but also of psychology, in furthering campaign 2012.
More below the fold.
Much has been written about how the Obama campaign used social media to achieve a stunning mandate, but now it is becoming apparent that it also used psychologists, behaviorists, and behavioral economists to its advantage.
Less well known is that the Obama campaign also had a panel of unpaid academic advisers. The group - which calls itself the "consortium of behavioral scientists," or COBS - provided ideas on how to counter false rumors, like one that President Obama is a Muslim. It suggested how to characterize the Republican opponent, Mitt Romney, in advertisements. It also delivered research-based advice on how to mobilize voters.To understand the effects and implications, one must need only to look to psychology and the intent of psychotherapy to see the advantages. Psychotherapy is not only reactive, but also proactive.
"In the way it used research, this was a campaign like no other," said Todd Rogers, a psychologist at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government and a former director of the Analyst Institute. "It's a big change for a culture that historically has relied on consultants, experts and gurulike intuition."
Although many attend psychotherapy to cope with problems and challenges, many also employ therapy to prepare for eventualities. Divorcing? Sick or facing death? Laid off or challenged at work? Go to therapy. But if you are well, employed, in productive, supportive relationships, psychotherapy is also helpful. Helps to prepare for future challenges. Thus, psychology can be reactive as well as proactive.
The Obama campaign knew to use psychology and related fields in advertising, in persuasion, and to prepare for the inevitable challenges of a campaign. Drawing on research, the campaign new the most effective way to blunt Romney lies about Obama were to counter with basic truth. Obama is a Muslim? Counter with examples of Obama's Christianity. Obama is a Kenyan? Counter with his Hawaiian heritage.
For example, Dr. Fiske's research has shown that when deciding on a candidate, people generally focus on two elements: competence and warmth. "A candidate wants to make sure to score high on both dimensions," Dr. Fiske said in an interview. "You can't just run on the idea that everyone wants to have a beer with you; some people care a whole lot about competence."Needless to say, Positive Psychology would have definitely helped us all after the first debate debacle. Focus on the positive, Obama's strengths, the resources of the campaign, the campaign volunteers and electoral certainties. Things are never as bad as they seem.
Mr. Romney was recognized as a competent businessman, polling found. But he was often portrayed in opposition ads as distant, unable to relate to the problems of ordinary people.
When it comes to countering rumors, psychologists have found that the best strategy is not to deny the charge ("I am not a flip-flopper") but to affirm a competing notion. "The denial works in the short term; but in the long term people remember only the association, like 'Obama and Muslim,' " said Dr. Fox, of the persistent false rumor.
The president's team affirmed that he is a Christian.
Democrats and candidates need to take home the message that psychologists and psychology can be of inestimable benefit during a rigorous campaign. Astral, election 2016 is approaching.