5 Things You Won't Believe Can Brainwash You on Election Day
Nov. 4 is Election Day in America, something that a huge percentage of you didn't even know because it's one of those off-year elections that nobody votes in. But that actually means that the people who do show up to elect a new congress for the world's lone superpower will wield an incredible amount of power. When no one else votes, the man willing to leave his sofa is king.
And, as we've mentioned before, there's a good chance that person will wind up making their choice based on some stupid/trivial factors they're not even aware of. Like ...
Trivial Differences in How Headlines Are Phrased
It's no secret that political reporting tends to be biased -- websites and magazines are run by people, not unfeeling robots (yet). But even a seemingly trustworthy news story can accidentally sway your opinion just by using a certain verb tense, in much the same way that throwing a comma into The Amazing Spider-Man would completely change that movie. Here, let's take an example of the verb tense thing: if a news report says that a congressman "was having sex with three prostitutes," it somehow sounds much more negative than, say, if a congressman "had sex with three prostitutes." Don't believe us? Try comparing these two sentences:
1. Delbert slapped Trevor in the face with his penis.
2. Delbert was slapping Trevor in the face with his penis.
Either way, this election season is a win for Delbert.
See, the first sentence (using the simple past tense) sounds like a single, punctuating dick tap, while the second (using the past progressive tense) sounds like an endless cycle of dick-slapping torment. Some Stanford researchers applied this trick to news reporting, and found that if an article said a senator "was taking" bribes from one of his constituents, study participants were much more likely not to reelect him than if he merely "took" bribes. Additionally, since the phrase "was taking bribes" implies a longer and possibly ongoing history, participants guessed that the dollar amount involved was much higher. "Took" implies a lone indiscretion in the distant past.
"Damn progressives and their tenses, trying to snatch all our money."
Interestingly, the opposite doesn't appear to be true -- a senator who "was giving" generous donations to an inner-city cancer orphanage won't see much of a boost in public approval over someone who just "gave" generous donations. But let's be honest -- this is unlikely to come up anywhere near as often.
Seeing the American Flag Makes You Vote Republican
Candidates prominently displaying the American flag in their ads, buttons, and posters is so automatic these days that you probably don't even notice it. The day you announce your candidacy, they probably just mail you a huge box of flags of various sizes, like a starter kit. But not only do the flags influence voters, they tend to influence us in a particular direction. According to a study by Cornell University, even so much as a quick glimpse of the stars and stripes at the time when you're forming your voting decision can be enough to sneakily nudge you towards the more conservative end of the political spectrum.
If you question the validity of this study, you're not a true patriot.
Before the presidential election in 2008, researchers bamboozled a crowd of social media participants into taking an online survey by promising them gift cards, because science is tricky and people will do anything for free shit. Half of the participants were shown an unobtrusive American flag onscreen as they answered their survey questions. When researchers contacted the participants after the election, those who'd been shown the flag were much more likely to have voted Republican. The flag wasn't featured in a political ad or associated with any candidate in any way -- a completely incidental viewing of the stars and stripes was enough to influence their vote.
"All right, forget TV spots and lobbyists. Pump all cash into online surveys and GIF makers."
Eight months later, the researchers followed up with the participants and discovered that those who had been exposed to the American flag during the survey were significantly more likely to be dissatisfied with Obama's presidential performance, demonstrating a long-lasting effect from that single, brief exposure.
Subjects exposed to the jolly roger had inexplicably fled to sea.
Just to make sure, the researchers performed a second experiment in 2010, in which they showed participants pictures of buildings with and without American flags. Once again, those who were shown the flags tended to show a more conservative bent. Even when the researchers explained their study and the participants insisted the results were bullshit, they kept right on leaning to the right. It's as if the flag activates a dormant involuntary conservative gene in all of our brains. Or, more likely, they've just done a really good job of getting you to associate the Stars and Stripes with their brand.
How Much a Candidate Swears
Remember when the bumbling sitcom character that is Vice President Joe Biden got caught mumbling "This is a big fucking deal" to President Obama at the White House signing ceremony for healthcare reform legislation a few years back? Of course you do, because it transformed your Facebook feed into a constant stream of hilarious Biden memes for the next several days, which honestly felt a little lazy considering Biden himself is a walking Internet meme. Well, while that incident may have upset terrifyingly old people who have somehow gone their entire lives without ever hearing the F-word, the fact of the matter is that expletive-laced gaffes like that could very well boost Biden's chances for the presidential nomination in 2016.
"I just hired David Mamet as my speech writer."
In a recent study, researchers asked potential voters to read a series of fictitious blog posts by a fictitious candidate running for office in non-fictitious Italy. Participants were more likely to approve of the candidate if the blog post included phrases such as "pissed off," "up shit creek," and "he can straight-up lick my asshole clean." (We may have added one of those for color.) The author of the study, Nicoletta Cavazza, theorized that this positive effect was due to the fact that "informality in political language makes the audience feel close to that politician, because vulgarity is ... associated to friendly conversations and contexts." That is, we're more likely to vote for someone who talks like one of our friends rather than one of our college professors.
There were two notable caveats, though. First, swearing was only effective at making male candidates more likable -- it didn't noticeably help the female candidates. Second, there appears to be a "saturation point" at which the amount of swearing hits a peak and then backfires (academics call this the Entourage effect). And because science is frequently delightful, researchers are now performing further studies to specifically nail down the exact point at which "fuck" becomes one "fuck" too many.
Eventually, Biden will just have no more fucks to give.
Still, the next time a candidate "accidentally" gets caught swearing into an "open mic," stop and ask yourself if it was an accident. This shit is chess, not checkers. Especially when they know the voters can be influenced by ...
How Much a Candidate Looks like You
When we say we like to vote for people who look like us, we're not talking about racism or sexism. We mean that even if it's a white dude picking between two white dudes, he'll vote for the one whose face looks more like his ... as long as he's not coming into it with a hard stance one way or the other. Obviously a hardcore liberal won't vote for a conservative just because he has his eyebrows. But an undecided voter? Apparently yes.
Undecided voters, aka "the ones by whom the election is decided."
In a series of studies at Stanford University, researchers tapped into a nationwide pool of volunteers and showed them photographs of candidates, asking them which ones they would be most likely to vote for. Some of the photos had been secretly altered to blend the candidate's face with the subject's own features, with varying levels of subtlety.
Man, that John Kerry blend just looks like he's melting.
In the first experiment, researchers presented the participants with Franken-candidates from a Florida gubernatorial race. Most of the voters weren't previously familiar with the candidates and showed a strong preference for the candidates whose faces had been mixed with their own.
In a second experiment, researchers used the morphed likenesses of the 2004 presidential candidates -- George W. Bush and John Kerry -- and presented the horror portraits to voters one week before the actual election. While strong partisans weren't moved beyond a vague sense of extreme discomfort, those without specific political affiliations gravitated towards the familiar faces. The researchers repeated the experiment a final time during the 2008 presidential election and saw the same results -- while strong party affiliations overruled any subconscious connection, those with more weakly defined political views just couldn't resist voting for themselves.
In that case, Americans should next vote for Chris Christie.
It makes total sense when you think about it. Voting is all about putting the fate of the entire nation in the hands of someone who's looking out for your own selfish interests -- and as far as your underbrain is concerned, who could be more sympathetic to your cause than a guy who looks like a digital police sketch of your driver's license photo?
And if you thought that people just voted for the best-looking candidate, well, not exactly ...
How Pretty the Candidate Is (for a Very Weird Reason)
We've previously discussed how the popularity of zombie fiction may be directly related to the current political climate of America, but as it turns out, there's an even more subliminal connection between zombies and our political choices. Most zombie apocalypses are caused by an outbreak of some kind of disease, right? Well, voting, as discovered by scientists at Arizona State University, follows a similar set of rules, except instead of giving us an unquenchable thirst for brains, being exposed to disease tends to make us vote for whichever candidate is the prettiest.
"President Johnson and Vice President Tatum, representing the Abs Party, have won the 2020 election in a landslide."
Upon examining the results of the 2010 congressional elections, the researchers found that good-looking candidates had almost twice the chance of winning in districts where disease was more prevalent, whereas in districts with better general health, a candidate's looks were not a factor in the outcome of the election. Sarah Palin could've really benefited from the Ebola panic, is what we're saying.
Cholera's the only reason we fell for sexpot Franklin Pierce.
To find out if disease really was the factor that made people vote based on prettiness, three controlled experiments were conducted. In the first, subjects were asked to pick a candidate after being exposed to pictures showcasing different threats, including disease and violence. In the second experiment, the participants (some of whom had been previously primed to think about disease) were asked to make a selection from a group of British politicians, in order to rule out cultural bias. Finally, groups of office workers, of which a portion were admittedly concerned about illness, were asked to pick their preferred manager from a collection of photos of different people. In each of the three cases, the people who had been exposed to concerns about disease tended to pick good-looking candidates, while the others were more open to voting for some hideous shit goblin provided they felt he or she could get the job done.
So what's the explanation?
When surrounded by death, you just want to bone?
Well, according to science, qualities associated with beauty -- such as shiny hair, smooth skin, and facial symmetry -- are actually indicators of good health (and, of course, good genes -- which also make you healthier). Therefore, good-looking politicians are disease-free politicians -- at least according to our innate disease-avoidance instincts. Your subconscious will actually push you to pick a leader whom it deems to be free from infection, even though in all probability that handsome politician is nothing more than a puddle of herpes held together in a vague person shape by a mold of expensive clothing.
Dennis is the creator of LemonVibe, an anonymous relationship advice site. He blogs and tweets, too. Mr. Yee would like you to support his bid for world president by purchasing his official campaign merchandise.
For more things outside your control, check out 5 Bizarre Factors That Secretly Influence Your Opinions and 5 Factors That Secretly Influence How Much You Like a Movie.