Politics

Emotional Reactions to the 2008 Presidential Election

by Brett W. Pelham

McCain supporters less happy, more pessimistic than Obama supporters after election

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Gallup Polls conducted before and immediately after the 2008 U.S. presidential election reveal that relative to Barack Obama supporters, John McCain supporters appear to have become slightly less emotionally positive, with not only more negative feelings but also a more jaundiced evaluation of their future lives.

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Shortly before the election, on Nov. 1-2, a slightly larger percentage of McCain supporters said they were happy "a lot of" the previous day than was true among Obama supporters. However, on the day after the election (Nov. 5), the self-reported happiness "yesterday" (which would have been Election Day) of those who voted for McCain dropped, while there was no change in happiness reported by Obama voters.

Because the composition of a group that has voted for a candidate may differ significantly from that of a group that merely endorses a candidate, and because the post-election poll was conducted on a weekday while the pre-election poll was conducted on a weekend (Gallup analysis shows that Americans generally report a more positive mood on the weekend), it may be inappropriate to make absolute comparisons between the pre-election and post-election happiness scores. However, it appears that, in comparison with Obama supporters, McCain supporters became at least slightly less happy on Election Day.

Relative to Obama supporters, McCain supporters were also somewhat more likely to experience an increase in negative emotions on Election Day -- specifically, a composite score for anger, worry, and sadness. During the weekend just prior to the election, Obama supporters scored slightly higher than McCain supporters on this index of negative emotions (22% versus 16%, respectively, felt negative emotions "a lot of" the previous day). In contrast, the two groups' scores on this index were identical (25% each) on Nov. 5 (reflecting their feelings on Election Day).

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It thus appears that relative to Obama supporters, McCain supporters experienced a more widespread increase in negative emotions on Election Day.

McCain supporters also seem to have become somewhat less rosy after the election about their future lives. Specifically, regarding how satisfied with their lives respondents expected to be five years in the future (on the Gallup 0 to 10 "ladder of life" scale), there was a drop for McCain supporters of almost a full scale point compared with just prior to the election. Obama supporters showed no change.

Put differently, prior to the election, Obama supporters and McCain supporters reported similar levels of optimism about their future lives on the Gallup "ladder of life" scale. Immediately after the election, however, the views of Obama supporters remained the same whereas the views of McCain supporters dropped substantially.

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Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews with approximately 1,000 national adults per night, aged 18 and older, conducted Nov. 1-2 and Nov. 5, 2008. For results based on the smallest group for whom happiness and negative mood data are reported, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points. The widest confidence range for the "optimism about one's future life" score is ±0.2 scale points.

Interviews are conducted with respondents on land-line telephones (for respondents with a land-line telephone) and cellular phones (for respondents who are cell-phone only).

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

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