Browse Category

Political Psychology

The Psychology of The Inevitable

Reading Time: 5 minutes

I have no idea who will win the Indiana primary 72 hours from the time I write. But the people inside Ted Cruz’s campaign seem to have an idea. And it’s not good for them. Cruz’s top team expects their candidate to lose. And Senator Cruz seems to have accepted that outcome.

Expectations Matter More Than Preferences

Regular readers know that polls that ask “who do you think will win” trump polls that ask “who do you intend to vote for” or even “who did you vote for?”

Social psychologists and pollsters give several reasons for this, but the one that seems most likely is sample size. When I think about who will win, I do a quick mental poll of the people I know and how they intend to vote. Late in 2015, I realized that most of my friends said they were voting for Trump. I wrote in Trump: Good, Bad, and Ugly:

It’s important because expectations are far better predictors of actual winners than preference polls. From a 2012 NY Times story by David Leonhardt:

“Over the last 60 years, poll questions that asked people which candidate they expected to win have been a better guide to the outcome of the presidential race than questions asking people whom they planned to vote for, the study found.”

That study, by David Rothschild of Columbia University and Justin Wolfers of University of Michigan, is worth a read. The reason “who do you expect to win” beats “who do prefer to win” is because the former question effectively broadens the survey by a factor of 20 as respondents mentally poll up to 20 of their friends and family.

Additionally, late deciders usually break for the candidate they expect to win by about 60/40, consistent with studies of other animals.

Then on August 24, 2015, I came across this poll: 57 percent of Republicans expected Trump to become the nominee. It’s possible that the whole nominating process was already finished last August. If race wasn’t over then, it’s over now.

Slouching Toward Indiana

Inevitability has crept into Ted Cruz’s mind, too. He’s behaving like a man who knows he’s lost.  I watched his rally speech in Jeffersonville, Indiana, last Friday, just four days before the Indiana primary. Cruz’s demeanor and even his words reminded me of Senator Marco Rubio’s speeches in the days before the Florida primary. The anger was gone. The energy was there, but it was a different kind of energy. In Jeffersonville, Cruz showed the sort of energy we see in a man who shrugged a great weight off his shoulders. The word “acceptance” comes to mind.

If Trump wins Indiana on Tuesday, expect Cruz to speak early, thank his supporters, congratulate Donald Trump, and set the stage for the next act in his political career. Just like Marco Rubio the evening of the Florida primary.

As explained in this Politico story, Inside the Cruz Campaign, Confidence Crumbles:

Within the campaign, some are turning to the question of what’s next. One senior aide said there had been no discussion about dropping out before the final primary contests are held on June 7 but noted that Cruz wouldn’t be eager to prolong a campaign he was convinced he couldn’t win.

I realize that strong Cruz supporters will see his Jeffersonville performance differently. That’s okay. They’re supposed to keep the faith. The most likely outcome–almost inevitable at this point–is that Donald Trump will leave Indiana without a major opponent to the nomination.

Yes, I’ve seen the reports that Cruz intends to continue his campaign even if he loses Indiana. But before Florida, Rubio said he’d continue on even if he lost his home state.

To detect a difference in Cruz’s demeanor, I compared two speeches. One from Iowa just a week before the Iowa caucuses. The other from Jeffersonville, Indiana, the Friday before the Indiana primary. I looked for tone, volume, tempo, body language, and facial expression. I also looked at language.

Waterloo, Iowa
Jeffersonville, Indiana

In Iowa, Cruz was fired up and combative. In Indiana, Cruz was almost apologetic at first, in the theological sense of the word. He was explaining his campaign rather than prosecuting it. Again, the polls could be wrong. But Cruz seems to believe the polls showing Trump in charge in the Hoosier state correct. A CNN source revealed those Cruz internal numbers:

But earlier in the week, Cruz allies and people close to the campaign described a budding sense of gloom, with internal polls diving as Trump mounted even stronger than expected showings in his native northeast. In Indiana, which Cruz backers once believed they were favored to win after his strong defeat of Trump in Wisconsin, Cruz’s numbers have fallen precipitously: Once leading, Cruz now trails in the state by eight to 10 points, according to a person who has seen the numbers, with Trump over the 40% mark. Cruz’s campaign did not respond when asked about those figures.

Remember the fish study. People want to go with the winner.

We See What We Want to See

Of course Trump haters and Cruz lovers will see things a little different. What I saw in Iowa was a man on the ascent, fairly confident of victory. In Indiana, I saw a man who has accepted defeat but soldiers on to fulfill a commitment to his supporters. In between, Cruz passed through several stages including denial and anger. But that anger has gone away now.

Senator Cruz probably knows what I know, that expectation polls trump preference polls. And the latest poll of Republican expectations came out on Friday. Here’s how Rasmussen described the results:

Belief that Donald Trump is the likely Republican presidential nominee has soared to its highest level ever and matches perceptions that Hillary Clinton will be the Democratic standard-bearer in the fall.

The latest Rasmussen Reports weekly Trump Change survey, taken following Trump’s five state primary wins on Tuesday, finds that 89% of Likely Republican Voters now think the billionaire businessman is likely to win the GOP nomination. Two-out-of-three (67%) say Trump’s nomination is Very Likely, up 18 points from 49% last week and up from 38% two weeks ago before Trump’s fortunes turned around with his mega-win in New York State.

It’s still possible, of course, that Trump could stumble, but he’ll have to fall fast and hard to lose the nomination. Cruz knows Screenshot 2016-05-01 11.08.53this and indicated on Friday that his campaign is dead if he loses badly in Indiana. And the latest Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll shows that the Cruz internal numbers were right: Trump is surging in Indiana. Via

Donald Trump holds a 15-point lead in the Republican presidential primary in Indiana, and a majority of GOP voters disapprove of the effort by underdogs Sen. Ted Cruz and Gov. John Kasich to coordinate a strategy to block him, a new Wall Street Journal/NBC News/Marist Poll finds.

Gateway Pundit has more.

For the record, I have not endorsed Donald Trump or any of the candidates still campaigning. (I supported Ben Carson.) I have warned that Trump is not a conservative, but I’ve also pointed out that a Trump presidency probably won’t be as bad as many people think. And I prefer Trump to any Democrat because Trump will likely appoint more reasonable federal judges and Supreme Court justices. You know how important the courts are.

Time to Start on Hillary

When asked about national head-to-head polls against Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump likes to say, “I haven’t even started on her yet.”

It’s time. Everyone expects Trump to be the Republican nominee, and expectations matter.

The good news: the civil war on the right probably ends Tuesday when Senator Cruz suspends his campaign. Better news: if Senator Cruz can get his new friends in the US Senate to pass some of the legislation he’s campaigned on, President Trump will sign it.

Finally, I’m a strategist, not a pollster. I am less concerned with what will happen than what people should do about what happens. If Cruz loses Indiana, the best outcome would be for Cruz to suspend his campaign and focus on influencing his fellow Senators to send great legislation to President Trump’s desk in 2017. On the other hand, Cruz could win Indiana in a landslide and make me look like a terrible forecaster.

So don’t place any $17.99  bets on what you read on my blog. Instead, spend that $17.99 on the hardcover edition of my latest book.


Fascinating Results from Leaders Eat Last Poll

Reading Time: 3 minutes

This is the story of hard choices and how people resist making them.

Last week’s poll asked you to watch a video by Simon Sinek before answering two, simple, two-part questions: which Republican candidate for President and Missouri Governor is most likely and least likely to eat last?

I intended the poll to be hard. Not complicated, not long, but emotionally challenging.

Why the Poll Was Emotionally Challenging

For several weeks, I have built a case for the importance of leadership. Along with St. Louis Tea Party Coalition, I’ve conducted two surveys about preferences for Missouri Governor and US President and one about most important qualities of a candidate. While analyzing the results of the polls and looking at verbatim comments about those polls, I spotted a disconnect: many respondents hold vague notions of what leadership is.

Looking across these and other polls, it’s clear that leadership is the most important quality to voters, but without a working definition of leadership, people can call just about anyone a leader. For example, studies have shown that people consider extroversion a sign of leadership, yet other studies find that ambiverts–those who have both extroversion and introversion traits–are much more successful than extroverts.

The Fascinating Stat

So what is this fascinating statistic?

It’s completion percentage.

Typically, between 75 percent and 80 percent of people who start my polls finish them. This is true of both long and short surveys.

But the completion percentage of the Leaders Eat Last poll was only 54 percent–20 percentage points lower than the previous two polls.

I’m speculating here, but I think the reason for the high abandonment rate is simple cognitive dissonance. People watched Simon Sinek’s video on leadership and agreed with the premise that leaders eat last. Then they were asked to decide which of the leading candidates for President and Governor is the kind of person to eat last or to use power and privilege to eat first. When a person’s chosen candidate failed the eat-last leadership test, he abandon the poll.

Put another way, when faced with the difficult choice of a) sticking with a candidate who lacks a key leadership quality, or b) re-evaluating support for a candidate, many people invented a third option: don’t choose.

When 46 percent of respondents abandon a 30-second poll, it’s safe to say many of them were avoiding a hard choice. It makes sense. No one was required to complete the poll; there was no penalty for abandonment. If your first choice for President or Governor is clearly the kind of person who would eat last, the poll takes only a few seconds and leaves you feeling more confident in your choice of candidates.

If, however, you cannot honestly say your first-choice candidate would eat last, you’re faced with a dilemma. You can lie about your prediction of your chosen candidate’s leadership qualities, or you can admit that your candidate lacks a quality you value. Given that choice, I believe many people chose not to choose.

The Results

The results of the poll did not surprise me at all. In general, Ben Carson and Eric Greitens were viewed as MOST LIKELY to eat last.

Screenshot 2015-08-22 11.37.19 Screenshot 2015-08-22 11.37.47

Donald Trump and Catherine Hanaway were seen as LEAST LIKELY to eat last.

Screenshot 2015-08-22 11.37.36 Screenshot 2015-08-22 11.37.57

My Take

Overall, I agree with the readers’ choices, but this poll requires more commentary.

First, I’m surprised Carly Fiorina received so few LEAST LIKELY votes. While I admire a lot about Ms. Fiorina, I have raised the question of her leadership style at HP which seems to indicate she’d eat first.

Second, I should point out that my intent was to force hard choices. Another method would be to allow respondents to rate each candidate on a scale. If , instead, respondents had rated each candidate on a zero to ten scale, I believe the order of ranking would have been the same, but the margins would have been much closer, especially for Missouri Governor.

Here’s why: Peter Kinder could have made a lot more money practicing law or as a business executive these 13 years. He had the opportunity. Instead, he has spent over a decade ensuring Missouri Republicans have a senior statewide officeholder. That tells me Kinder is the kind of leader who will eat last. Likewise, John Brunner is a Marine officer, and Marine officers by long tradition eat last. Eric Greitens is certainly the kind of leader Simon Sinek recommends in the video. That doesn’t mean Peter Kinder and John Brunner are not that kind of leader.

Finally, I don’t think anyone was surprised that most readers believe Trump is the kind of leader who elbows his way to the front of line.

Thank you for taking the poll. Because I’ve had a lot of business travel the past few weeks, this week’s poll will launch late, probably on Monday.

How to kill a movement

Reading Time: 1 minutes

Did you ever see a movement grow?

Did you see the way it starts?

Did you feel it spread around you?

Did you hear it rustling the leaves and scraping the sidewalk?

Did you want to kill it?

The weird thing about movements is that opposition tends to strengthen them. Movements feed on hostility the way rats feed on garbage.

The way you kill a movement is infiltration and fragmentation.

You can’t kill a movement from the outside. You can only kill it from inside. The way an antibiotic kills bacteria.

I’m watching it happen in Missouri. Not intentionally. In fact, the frackers (those who fracture) truly believe they’re strengthening the movement by eliminating suspicious elements.

I’m one of those suspicious elements. They’re probably better off without me. But they’ve also seized on Rep. Paul Curtman as a suspicious element.


Paul Curtman is about the truest conservative in Jefferson City. He’s brilliantly navigated the state capitol without falling prey to the establishment. He’s taken hard lines on hard issues, consistent with his remarkably strong Christian conservative ethic.

And a tiny but angry and relentless element of Missouri conservatism wants to isolate, personalize, and attack Paul. They believe Paul has strayed because he didn’t get everything they want all at once. You know, the way toddlers expect their wishes to happen.

This is fragmentation. It’s fracturing. It’s destructive.

It’s the only way to kill a movement. And it’s completely homegrown.

The greatest threat to freedom is not a totalitarian; the greatest threat to freedom is a conservative who can’t tolerate deviations from her narrow agenda.

Just cool down folks. We might win this thing.

Who’s Rambling Now?

Reading Time: 1 minutes

Someone who met Bill Clinton told me, “I rambled. He probably thought I was an idiot.”

No. Bill Clinton wanted you to ramble. He wanted to make you the most important person in the room for two minutes. He listened for a nugget of information–a story–he could use in his next speech.

If you’re running for office remember: the most important person in every room is the voter you’re talking with. Let her ramble.

Take a Walk on the Hedonic Treadmill

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Here’s what happens when you raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour, according to scientists:


Well, not nothing. All kinds of bad things happen to the economy. But nothing happens for two groups of people central to the whole debate: workers who get a bump to $15 and employers who have to bump to $15 an hour.

Most cities and states that have raised their minimum wage laws to $15 will phase in the increase over five years. That pretty much means the market will have adjusted to the change long before it becomes effective. But that’s a terrible scenario to test my theory, based on research by Harvard psychologist Dan Gilbert.

Let’s do this instead: let’s raise the minimum wage to $15 in 30 days.

But first, let’s give a standard happiness survey to a thousand minimum-wage earners before we announce the increase. And let’s give the same test to wager payers.

Then, let’s re-administer the test to both groups 30 days after the minimum wage hike goes into effect. And let’s test them all again one year later.

To keep the experiment clean, the final analysis will include only those who a) kept their minimum wage job for the whole year, or b) kept their minimum-wage paying business open the whole year.

I can tell you the results. One year after the minimum wage goes to $15 an hour, workers making minimum wage will be just about as happy as they were before they learned the minimum wage was going up. Same for the businesspeople who pay them.

In between, just after the wage jumps to $15, worker will be euphoric and owners will be miserable.


It’s called the hedonic treadmill. Even if we ignore the economic effect of a big jump in minimum wage (like business failures and higher unemployment for those who most need entry-level jobs), we know from science that people adjust quickly to changes in their circumstances.

When you get a new car, it’s awesome, but a year later, it’s nothing special.

When you buy a new pair of shoes, you love them. And even if they’re still in great shape a year later, they’re just a pair of shoes.

Dan Gilbert found that one year after winning the lottery and one year after becoming paralyzed, both groups of people were just about as happy as they were immediately before those life-changing events.

Dan Gilbert, (1) a Harvard psychologist has researched lottery winners and found that ‘the happiness effect’ starts to decline after just a few months. Once the initial elation of getting the big cheque has worn off , people seemed to return to their previous level of happiness or unhappiness.

Raising the minimum wage to $15 is a political ploy with economic downsides and no long-term benefit for the people who get the minimum wage.

On the other hand, helping a $7.25 an hour worker earn a 100 percent raise does wonders for that person’s life, outlook, and self-esteem while providing economic benefits to his employer, his family, and his community.

So go ahead and double the minimum wage, Francis. It will do nothing but accelerate St. Louis’s slide toward irrelevancy.

5 Secrets Politicians Don’t Want You to Know

Reading Time: 3 minutes

How long has it been since you said, “they just don’t listen to us?”

By “they,” you mean politicians, of course. Maybe you feel they listen to lobbyists and big corporations and banksters, but they don’t listen to their constituents.

I have to agree with you. Politicians don’t listen to their constituents. They don’t even know who their constituents are.

They know demographics and statistics about their constituents, but that’s like saying you know how a banana tastes because you read a chemical assay report of its contents.

Politicians do know their lobbyists. That’s because (a) there are fewer lobbyists to know, and (b) the lobbyists show up at their doorstep with a smile.

To keep things simple, politicians use shortcuts. We all do. They use a few, trusted people as sounding boards. They get talking points from someone they trust. And they do what they think is best for themselves and (usually) for the country and their district or state.

With that in mind, here are five secrets of influencing a politician that politicians don’t want you to know.

1.  Phone calls and office visits really do work. When you call or visit a politician’s office, you’re acting like a lobbyist. You’re taking the time to show up. You’re meeting the politician on his turf, not yours. That’s a sign of respect, not for the politician as politician, but for the person with a busy schedule and a lot of demands. Showing up too often might turn off the politician, but showing up at the right time sends a signal that your representative can’t ignore. But you have to be polite and respectful. Screaming idiots are, well, screaming idiots.

2. Online petitions and boilerplate emails go straight into the circular file. The purpose of these tools is not to influence politicians but to keep people engaged.  Why do you think Obama’s White House promises to “respond” to petitions with 100,000 signatures? Because it’s easy for them. “Respond,” isn’t much of a promise. They’re for you and your psychological benefit, but they don’t change anyone’s beliefs, attitudes, or behaviors. Sign them if it makes you happy, but don’t expect online petitions or boilerplate emails to drive any change.

3. People can handle only about 150 relationships with other people. It’s called the Dunbar Number, and it’s pretty much fixed by an individual’s memory capacity. That means your Representative, Senator, County Councilman, or whoever can only really know 150 people. Lobbyists understand this and work really hard to be one of them. To have real influence, you need to win one of the coveted speed dial spots, too. Here’s a strategy for getting on a politician’s speed dial.

4. Politicians make mistakes. This is important to remember, because politicians don’t like to admit mistakes. They’ll admit to meaningless mistakes that don’t matter–affairs, drinking, drug use, taking a lot of time off–but they hide mistakes that count–voting for a terrible bill, trading votes for favors, rationalizing a vote that contradicts their own principles. Like everyone else, politicians use the meaningless apologies as distractions to hide their real failings as representatives. If you refuse to engage in the unimportant distractions, you’ll have an easier time keeping them focused on the things that matter.

5. Politicians really want to be liked. We all want to be liked, except for some sociopaths. Being liked means having allies when the feces hits the rotating air circulators. When I started meeting a lot of politicians after the Tea Party thing took off, the first thing I noticed is they hate confrontation and disagreement. They really like being liked, and most of them are damn good at being likable. Go ahead and like them. They’re people. They’re usually fun and interesting people with fascinating stories to tell. Listen carefully and ask them to tell you more. People so often want to jawbone politicians, when someone listens to them as human beings, that listener gets on the fast track to the speed dial.