New Study Shows Obama's Emotional Connection to Voters Eroding While Romney's Improves

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Emotional connection to candidates could impact base turnout. Can Obama regain emotional connection lost after first debate?

New Motista Study Shows Romney's Connection to People's Future Trumps Obama's Likeability and Coolness.

A breakthrough new study released today by an innovative brand research firm reveals that since the first presidential debate Republican candidate Mitt Romney has strengthened his “emotional connection” to American voters, while President Barak Obama lost ground.

The results of a new Presidential Emotional Connection Study released today by Motista shows that while President Obama continues to enjoy the “emotional advantage” over Romney, shifts in voter’s emotional connection with the candidates might project—beyond typical polls of likely voters—who will get the turnout needed to win the election.

The study shows that among one of the most powerful emotional drivers—confidence the future will be better—Romney has gained a significant edge since the debate.

“Emotionally connected voters are most likely to turn out for their candidates on Election Day because they feel the candidate impacts them personally,” said Alan Zorfas, founder of Motista. “When you look at candidates as brands, you can quantify which factors are likely to have the biggest impact on voting behavior.”

The study from Motista – a firm that provides consumer intelligence to help Fortune 1000 marketers understand and measure how emotion impacts their brands – shows how these top emotional factors will impact voter behavior by quantifying the most powerful emotions motivating voters to act. This goes beyond whether a voter perceives a candidate to be likable, qualified or even “cool.”

“With the campaign in a virtual dead heat, shifts in emotional connection could very well be the deciding factor,” Zorfas said. “President Obama has the characteristics of a strong brand. When you compare Obama’s party base with Romney’s party base, Obama’s supporters are more emotionally connected to the candidate, and his greatest advantages are measures of coolness, being admired, entertaining, and his authenticity.”

“But, the news post-debate is that on a single critical factor – confidence the future will be better – Romney leapfrogged Obama,” Zorfas said.

On this key factor, the emotional connection to Obama among his party base dropped 11.1%, the biggest change for Obama. At the same time, Romney surged 6.5% with his party base, giving the Republican challenger a 12.9% advantage post-debate. 60% of Romney’s party base connects with Romney on this measure, vs. 47.5% of Obama’s party base. Romney also gained on other top drivers like “feel secure” and “feel free and independent.”

“This is so important because while Obama enjoys an edge on other emotional drivers like happiness and belonging with others, with the race is in a dead heat any shift could tip the scales one way or the other,” said Zorfas. “Beyond perceptions of the candidate, these connections are what motivate people to vote.”

The Motista study shows that before the debate, 37.8% of Obama Democrats were emotionally connected to the President, compared to only 26.5% of Romney Republicans to their nominee. Post-debate, Obama’s emotional support remained flat (36.6%) while Romney grew to 33%, a virtual tie on emotion with supporters.

The report also shows that those voters who are emotionally connected to a candidate have a stronger intent to vote. For example, voters who are emotionally connected to Romney are 25% more likely to “definitely vote” for the candidate than those who see merely see the candidate as “qualified,” but don’t feel emotionally connected.

Emotionally connected voters are also almost twice as likely to have recently forwarded information about the candidate to a friend or relative. They’re 2.5 times more likely to follow the candidate on Facebook or Twitter. And, they’re over 3 times more likely to have donated. “The emotionally-connected party base acts,” reinforced Zorfas. “And this is the key to turnout.”

“By assessing candidates as brands and applying scientific rigor as we do with our clients’ brands, we move beyond “likability” scores or perceptions of candidate attributes that might not drive the vote,” said Zorfas. “While voters may perceive Obama to be more personable or Romney to be more likely to reduce the deficit, how people link these items to their own personal feelings about future, family, society and the pursuit of happiness is what drives them to the voting booth.”

Motista surveyed 2,600 likely voters across two waves. First, the survey was fielded between 9/24-10/2, two weeks after the Democratic National Convention. A second wave was fielded 10/4-10/7, the period right after the first debate. The population is nationally representative for geography, age, gender and ethnicity. The study has a margin of error of 3.98 at a 95% confidence level.

Motista also looked at independents that are less committed to either candidate. “We believe the debate format provided independent voters who are now tuning in an opportunity to engage the candidates and their stances in a more direct way,” Zorfas said. “This group is going through a learning process that might lead them to make an emotional connection with the candidates. Obama enjoys an incumbent advantage of simply being better known.”
The report shows that 17.4% of independents feel emotionally connected to Obama. This stayed steady at 17.6% post-debate. Romney actually dropped 10 points with 16.2% feeling connected pre-debate, falling to 6% post-debate.

“While emotion is the strongest driver of action, this group is still using their left brain to ‘think’ about their options. In marketing, this segment might not be a great target. In elections, making an emotional connection in the final weeks could make or break a campaign,” said Zorfas.

Download the Motista Presidential Emotional Connection Study brief at    Alan Zorfas can be reached at

Summary of key findings:

  •     Emotionally connected voters are more likely to turn out for their candidates on Election Day. (24% more emotionally connected “party base” voters report they “will definitely vote” for their candidate vs. those who merely see the candidate as qualified to be President. They are also far more likely to advocate for the candidate.)
  •     The top 7 emotional drivers correlating to voting intent are when voters connect the following to their candidate: 1.) Good For Society, 2.) Confidence In The Future, 3.) Good For My Community, 4.) Belong With Others, 5.) Feeling Of Happiness, 6.) Improve Life For My Family And 7.) Feel Secure. (When voters feel these connections they are much more likely to vote for their candidate.)
  •     President Obama enjoys an “emotional advantage” with his Democratic Party base vs. GOPs with Romney. But Romney improved and Obama weakened after the debate. (Romney now outperforms Obama on “Confidence in the Future” by 13%. Obama still leads on the other drivers, but the gap has closed.)
  •     While independents are far less connected to either candidate, Obama has 12% more independent voters who are emotionally connected with him vs. independents rating Romney. (Corresponding “voting intent” with this group also favors Obama, 48% to 34%.)
  •     The study’s widest margins separating Obama from Romney are on image attributes of “cool, admired and entertaining.” While important, these measures are not as motivating as the emotional connections. (Romney Republicans perceive that the “most demanding voters” favor Romney.)

About Motista

Motista was formed in 2007 to help Fortune 1000 companies quantify and act on emotion with consumers. Motista works with leading brands in financial services, hospitality, restaurant, consumer electronics and retail. The company has fielded over 500,000 surveys with consumers validating its connection model for measuring the impact of emotional connection on business outcomes.

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Alan Zorfas
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Andrew Miller
PCA&CO for Motista
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