Austrian social scientist says national mood, rather than any key trait, determines electability

The Takeaway

You’ve probably heard pundits point to various attributes of each presidential candidate — Barack Obama’s likeability or Mitt Romney’s stance on the economy, for instance — as explanations for why they appeal, or don’t, with different demographics.

A cheat sheet for November’s presidential election might answer the following questions: How much of a role will likeability play? Does it matter who’s a flip flopper? Will voters care who is toughest on security? Or are we after who just seems more presidential?

It could turn out that none of these factors make much of a difference. John Casti, author of the book “Mood Matters: From Rising Skirt Lengths to the Collapse of World Powers” and Director of the X Center, a research center for human-caused extreme events in Vienna, says it all boils down to mood.

“It’s more the mood of the voters and the mood as a group, rather than the individual mood of the voter, that actually decided the outcome of the election,” he said.

Casti’s research has focused on how you characterize the mood of an entire nation. By mood, he means the beliefs an individual or group holds about its future. Not the emotional response, he said, but rather something more rationale, cognitive and long-lasting.

He says that whether a candidate is going to be elected has very little to do with how much the candidate is liked.

“In general, what I’ve discovered is, the mood of the population, their beliefs that their future is better than today or the belief that the future is going to be worse, is really the deciding factor as to whether the incumbent…is returned to office or kicked out,” Casti said.

He said that idea been born out in his research on all of the past U.S. elections where there was statistically significant information about voters’ feelings about their future.

“Without a single exception, what I discovered is that when the population is optimistic about the future, they believe the future is going to be better than today, the incumbent is always returned to office. Just the opposite when they’re fearful of the future,” Casti said.

That sentiment, Casti said, is what propelled Obama to victory in 2008.

Rather than like-ability, then, Casti said winning and losing pretty much comes down to one simple thing: luck.

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