Rush To Judgment: Why People Change Their Minds After Big Elections


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Science is looking into how polls change people's minds: Photo by secretlondon123

Every four years, the United States is inundated with pollsters and stories regarding the polling numbers of candidates who seek the title of President of the United States. Each year, we see candidates rise and fall in these polls. We hear of their campaign momentum and polling surges. Yet, many of us don’t understand what causes these numbers to change so rapidly, and so dramatically, over the course of even a week.

The most recent example of poll numbers changing dramatically occurred in South Carolina’s Primary. Until last Thursday, Mitt Romney was expected to win the contest by a slim margin. Events changed Thursday and Friday, leading Newt Gingrich to attract 40 percent of the vote. Gingrich won the South Carolina Primary, ahead of Florida’s Primary on January 31, 2012.

What caused the rapid rise of Newt Gingrich in so short a time? There are several studies that have looked into phenomenons like these in politics, sports, marketing, and employment. They have resulted in three different methods of how humans change their minds regarding a situation.

Market Momentum in Elections

Market momentum, also known as brand momentum, is the way a product is perceived by the public. In many cases, the way an item or candidate is thought of impacts the likelihood of selection that individual. With a new product, such as a new candidate, they initially gain momentum for being new. The novelty soon wears off, leaving the same product with a different image in the minds of shoppers.

Remember when Rick Perry joined the Republican Presidential Nomination race, for example. He surged ahead in the polls almost overnight, receiving more attention than his rivals. The shine of the new candidate quickly faded in the minds of voters, and Rick Perry’s campaign numbers dropped. Perry later dropped out of the race following a fifth place finish in New Hampshire.

Other candidates also received momentum during the process, including Herman Cain, Michele Bachmann, and Donald Trump. These candidates’ polling numbers appeared better initially, but expectations later dropped, driving their momentum backwards.

William J. McEwan, author of Married to the Brand, wrote about brand momentum for Gallup’s Management Journal, stating that the perception of quality in an item can generate appeal. Products introduce new lines of goods, attempting to retain existing customers, and attract new customers. Politicians do the same using political speeches and talking points. A bad speech, talking point, or debate performance, can be the political equivalent to a failed product line in business.

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