Emotions are running high. ​Who do they favor this time?

By Aaron Reid
November 3, 2020

Can you feel it? Emotions are running high.

Most political polling is showing a significant advantage for Biden in key battleground states. While the polling data is showing a tightening race, the Real Clear Politics poll of polls continues to show advantages for Biden in the former “blue wall” of Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania; newly competitive states like Georgia (B: 47.8, T: 47.4) and Arizona (B: 47.6, T: 46.6) are now within the margin of error for explicit polls.

And then of course there is Florida. The RCP average favors Biden (B: 48.3, T: 47.3). Can we trust those numbers? Are they reflective of how people are actually filling out their ballots? If 2016 polling results are any indication, we need new sources of insight.

We turned to an implicit emotional measurement technique to try to gain greater insight on voter emotions. Going beyond what people are willing and able to admit in a survey, these techniques measure the degree of non-conscious emotional associations with each candidate. The degree of passion captured using these methods can provide insight into voter turn-out and candidate choice.

Below you will find an analysis of results in four key battleground states: Florida, Pennsylvania, Arizona and Ohio. You’ll see that emotions related to these candidates are very strong. That may not surprise many readers if you’ve been living in the US during this election cycle. However, what may be surprising to some is the degree of negative emotion implicitly associated with Donald Trump. The negative emotion scores observed for Trump are in the 95th percentile among Democrats and are significantly negative among Independents in Pennsylvania and Arizona.

Especially important for Biden is the finding that Democrats dislike Trump much more than Republicans dislike Biden. This is true in both Arizona and Florida. While the election outcomes will ultimately be determined by voter turnout, this implicit data suggests that the emotions which are running so high for Democrats may also have them running to the polls. 


2020 Presidential Candidate Implicit and Explicit Results for Battleground States


In a must win state, Trump’s chances are good. While neither party is in-love with their candidate, Trump holds a significant edge in emotional appeal among Independents and this group also self-identifies much more with Trump than Biden. The Democrats silver-lining? Dislike for Trump is severe among Democrats while appeal of Biden is neutral among Republicans. This contrast in implicit emotional appeal may be a factor driving more Democrats to the polls than Republicans.

Florida Implicit Emotional Appeal of Candidates
Florida Quick Conscious Self-ID of Candidates


One of the key states of the great “blue wall” that fell in favor of Trump in 2016 is also in play in 2020. However, the implicit emotion data indicates that Joe Biden will carry Pennsylvania, depending on voter turn-out. The implicit dislike of Trump is severe among Democrats and emotional appeal is negative among Independents. This translates into a significant advantage for Biden among Independent voters. This group of voters is also significantly more likely to self-identify with Biden than they are with Trump.

Pennsylvania Implicit Emotional Appeal of Candidates
Pennsylvania Quick Conscious Self-ID of Candidates


If Pennsylvania goes for Biden, Trump’s path to victory gets much narrower. That path may be even more narrow based on insight from the implicit emotion data from Arizona. In Arizona, Republicans actually have a negative implicit emotional reaction to Trump. Perhaps just as importantly for Biden, Independents in AZ also implicitly dislike Trump, while simultaneously feeling positive emotional appeal toward Biden. Interestingly, the Independents in AZ self-identify much more with Biden than they do with Trump which is the opposite pattern of Independents in Florida. Democrats in AZ show significant negative emotion toward Trump and implicit positive appeal for Biden. If Independents and Democrats show up at the polls in numbers proportionate to Republicans, the State will go for Biden.

Arizona Implicit Emotional Appeal of Candidates
Arizona Quick Conscious Self-ID of Candidates


If Ohio does not go for Trump, the promise of being re-elected is slight. The explicit polls in Ohio show a very tight race, with the Real Clear Politics average (poll of polls) showing Trump at 47.0% and Biden at 46.8%. The implicit data paints a similar picture but with greater nuance. Importantly for Trump, he has a positive implicit emotional appeal in Ohio. In addition, Republicans in Ohio carry a very negative implicit perception of Biden. The wrinkle? Independents find Biden less negative than Trump, and are equally likely to identify with Biden and Trump. Importantly for Biden, Democrats show stronger passion for showing up at the polls for Biden, than Republicans do for Trump. The outcome will depend heavily on the proportion of party voters, rather than Independents, that show up at the polls.

Ohio Implicit Emotional Appeal of Candidates
Ohio Quick Conscious Self-ID of Candidates
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Aaron Reid


Founder & CEO, Sentient Decision Science, Inc.

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