The Emotional Intelligence on the Presidential Candidates Tracker

By Aaron Reid
August 10, 2023

Sentient is using its true implicit testing platform, Sentient Prime®, to track the Emotional Appeal of the top presidential candidates leading up to the 2024 election. We determine the strength and valence of voters’ basic emotional response to each candidate—a powerful scientific measure of approach/avoidance motivation toward or away from individuals, products, races/ethnicities/genders/orientations, topics/issues, imagery, sound, taste, and smell—as well as many other kinds of experiences or attitudes we all have difficulty expressing explicitly and accurately (or, sometimes, honestly) in words. Particularly when integrated with formal, traditional economic rational-utility models of decision-making, quantitative data on Emotional Appeal consistently delivers a dramatic improvement in the real-world accuracy and explanatory power of predictive models of decision-making. 

Given poll standings, for the first readout of our Implicit Appeal tracker we elected to focus primarily on attitudes toward the incumbent president and his top opponents: Robert F. Kennedy Jr., Donald Trump, Ron DeSantis, Nikki Haley, and Mike Pence. After recruiting thousands of voters across the country during the month of July, the results of our inaugural round are here.  

Our Findings

Examining the data from July 2023 provides important leading indicators and fascinating insights into early-stage voter attitudes toward the 2024 contenders. 

As expected, we find that Democrats feel implicitly positive about Biden and Republicans feel positive about Trump. However, we found significantly stronger negative emotional responses to Biden among Republicans than to Trump among Democrats. In fact, Biden’s 83.9 Implicit Emotional Appeal score is so low that it is on a level with the general population’s average emotional responses to pictures of snakes1or the sound of nails on a chalkboard2. The strongly negative response to Biden amongst Republicans indicates that, were the election held today, we would see significantly higher Republican voter turnout than expected based on what explicit polling results suggest. 

Another important insight from the tracker is that, on average, none of the candidates provokes positive emotional responses in the minds of Independents (the majority of American voters). This presents a striking opportunity for candidates who have earned at least a bit of the general public’s goodwill, to stand out against a field of broadly disliked candidates. As we continue down the campaign trail, we’ll continue to track the Implicit Emotional Appeal of leading candidates and dig deeper into the issues driving Independent voters’ attitudes and, ultimately, their choices at the polls. 

1 Source: Sentient Labs, (Reid, McCandless, Sauer, Messer, 2015, The Emotional Appeal of Natural Kinds)
2 Source: Sentient Labs, Sonic Humanism Scale, with Made Music Studio

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Aaron Reid


Founder & CEO, Sentient Decision Science, Inc.

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