Who do you think is more optimistic, more hopeful about the future -- Romney or Obama? It matters at the polls, a lot more than you'd think. Research looking at presidential nomination acceptance speeches over the course of 84 years compared candidates' pessimism (their pessimistic explanatory style) and rumination (about bad events) to the races' outcomes. The results were striking. Pessimistic candidates lost overwhelmingly to their counterparts. The victory margin of the more optimistic candidates even corresponded with the difference between the candidates in their "pessimistic rumination".
So the question facing American voters today is: Who do we perceive to be more optimistic, Romney or Obama?
Mitt Romney says of his campaign, "We believe in our future, we believe in ourselves, we believe the greatest days of America are ahead." He makes promises such as the one in his blog post the day before the election:
"I pledge that Paul Ryan and I will bring real change to America from Day One. We have a plan that will deliver a real recovery. Our children will graduate into exciting careers that are worthy of their qualifications. Our seniors will be confident that their retirement is secure. Americans will have good jobs, good pay, and good benefits. Our veterans will come home to a bright future. We will have confidence that our lives are safe and our livelihoods are secure... We are hours away from the better future America deserves."
On the other hand, Barack Obama believes in "an America where no matter what you look like, no matter where you come from, you can make it if you try." He is known for his so-called "rhetoric of hope" and wrote a book entitled The Audacity of Hope. The famous four-letter word became the tagline for the entire campaign, with Shepard Fairey's "Hope" poster as its central symbol. While some say Obama built a political machine around optimism, some scholars disagree, saying he was more "grounded, cautious, and focused" than Senator McCain.
CNN Senior Political Analyst and former presidential advisor David Gergen thinks that Obama has flip-flopped to a more pessimistic tone this time around, and that, " The clothes of this campaign, the negativity, don't really fit" Obama. This may have cost him the election, though there's been a recent turnaround to more optimistic messages in this eleventh hour. Soon we'll find out if it's too little too late.
It's likely that the political advisors, handlers, and speechwriters know that Americans have been casting our votes for hope for decades now -- and engineer the campaigns to maximize it. Amid all this positive maneuvering, and conversely, all the political mudslinging, the overabundance of hope and optimism in the rhetoric of this year's election from both sides may be another signal of how close this race is on November 6. When the polls close, whoever has convinced us he believes in a bright future will take the day -- and take the White House for the next four years.