Commentary

The Electoral Hangover

I’m writing this before 8 a.m. on Election Day.  Right now, the pundits have nothing much to talk about beyond what countless polls have declared and what early turn-out looks like. (Cue images of people entering buildings to vote).

Nothing much to be said, but they’re filling time saying it anyway and finding ways to disagree about it for the sake of “good TV."

As an Englishman living and working in the U.S. for more than nine years, this is my third electoral cycle. We always had very good coverage of U.S. elections in the UK courtesy of the BBC, but inevitably, this never intensified until the latter stages of the interminably drawn out affair that distracts from the day-to-day business of government for both sides. (In the UK -– as with most other countries -- the whole thing is done and dusted in a matter
of weeks).

For me, it’s something of a spectator sport with consequences.  As with my fellow Brits in the media industry (and the country at large), I pay taxes in the U.S. but cannot vote – which makes me think I should dangle a tea bag in the Hudson River as a salute to irony, but it seems an awful waste of decent tea.

But I have a clear favorite in the presidential race and I, like the rest of you, will have strong feelings when the result is called. Feelings will indeed run high.  Just remember how it was last time around. The jubilation and exuberance of Obama supporters was reflected by the dismay, disappointment and even hostility of McCain supporters. 

That polarity of sentiment has colored much of the last four years of political dialogue and action.  It’s been
messy, nasty, noncollaborative and worse.  Whichever side you favor, this has not been America’s finest political hour.

This time, I suspect the polarity of sentiment will be with us again, only more pronounced.  Fueled by the last four years of increasingly hostile campaigning, comment and advertising, we moved even closer to the politics of
“anything goes” with the subsequent impact on the nature of civic discourse among
the populace. Just look at Facebook.

Whatever the result, barring a total landslide, it’s safe to assume that for a period of time, a large proportion of the American population is going to be suffering what in emotional terms might thought of as an Electoral Hangover.  They’ll feel mixture of sadness and uncertainty; they feel overwhelmed and frustrated; angry and worried.

For those voting for the winning candidate the opposite will be true.  They’ll be experiencing a kind of emotional high and feeling relieved, happy, confident, excited, hopeful and more.

How long these differing emotional states will last depends on what comes next, but the emotional impact of the election is something marketers and media folk would do well to understand and take into account when shaping communications and media plans.

While target audiences inevitably comprise people of different political persuasions and while that is not normally a significant factor in communications planning, when political orientation is also an indicator of emotional state, it can begin to impact receptivity and therefore, how messages should be crafted.

For example, a financial services company would do well to position itself as having the skills, products and services to protect the customer’s assets when speaking to those that voted for the losing candidate. For those who backed the winner,  the message may be all about making the most of one’s assets.

Same brand, same product, different message according to political leaning and emotional state.

As a point of reference, remember how you felt when President George W. Bush in 2004 and President Obama in 2008 each achieved their respective victories and contrast your feelings each time.

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1 comment about "The Electoral Hangover".
  1. Jennifer Finger from KeenReader Inc. , November 7, 2012 at 1:51 p.m.
    Unfortunately, political candidates are locked into a never-ending campaign mentality that doesn't go away after any election. And every channel of the media feeds on the frenzy, so they stir it up. I think the role of social media made it worse, when Facebook updates, tweets, and other immediate responses to events came out and just added fuel to fires that didn't need it. A commentator said this week that there is no longer any boundary between governing and campaigning in the US, and I think unfortunately the commentator is right. If candidates didn't find it necessary to seek votes of far-right or far-left fringe groups and voters whose views are light years away from the mainstream, maybe we could get away from this stupid mentality and back to real-time governing. But I also think it's a very safe bet that it will never happen.