Beyond Emotivism: How does this make you feel?
Reading a recent article by Stuff, I was struck once again by a strong sense of frustration at their “How does this story make you feel?” survey. Frustration, however, was not one of the six options provided. I suppose I could have chosen a combination of “sad,” “concerned,” and “angry”, but I was limited to two feelings. Recent research indicates a minimum of 27 distinct emotional categories; restricting my choice to two seemed unfair.
I was now both frustrated and resentful.
Voters’ choices depend on events that affect their emotional state even when those events are unrelated to government activity.
The article in question discussed a new stalking offence that the Labour Party are considering if they are successful in the upcoming election. The story outlined the horrific details of one particular stalking incident, interspersed with a commentary on Labour’s slowness to consider a change to the law and statements from the Justice Minister. The threads of personal and community tragedy, political analysis, and policy pros and cons were woven into a complex web, evoking emotional reactions and rational deliberation.
The reader was asked to summarise all of these thoughts and feelings into two of six emojis: happy face, thoughtful face, mad face, sad face, meh face or a thumbs up. If only they provided a facepalm emoji…
An incumbent is less likely to be voted for if there has been an unexpected sporting loss in the lead-up to election day.
If this degree of emotivism and oversimplification were restricted to the fine people at Stuff, I wouldn’t lose any more sleep over it. However, research indicates that the knee-jerk emotional reactions endorsed by Stuff are also driving the way that we vote.
Findings of the Stanford Business School “demonstrate that voters’ choices depend on events that affect their emotional state even when those events are unrelated to government activity.” To test this, the research team analysed the effect that the outcome of sporting competitions has on voting patterns. An incumbent is less likely to be voted for if there has been an unexpected sporting loss in the lead-up to election day; incumbents are more likely to be re-elected if there is an unexpected victory.
So, are emotions our enemy come election day? I don’t believe so.
As a non-sports fan, I can’t say what might be happening in the world of rugby around election time, but surely anything that holds true for sport can hold true for other beloved hobbies and life events? Advice columnist (and poet) Hera Lindsay Bird even attributes the libertarian tendencies of a 17-year-old Act Supporter to her emotional frustration at not being listened to by her parents.
So, are emotions our enemy come election day? I don’t believe so. Our emotions are an essential tool in our decision-making arsenal, but there are a lot of other resources in there. Our ability to reason: to ask good questions and critically assess the answers. Our intuitions: instincts and reflexes honed over years of experience and habit. The problem arises when we limit our view of the world to just one of these.
We must ask ourselves reflective questions like: Why am I feeling this way? What practical changes can address the circumstances that have led to this feeling? Can or should the government play a role in this particular situation, and which elected representative is best placed to influence change? If we can find answers to these questions, we will be one step closer to a “smiley face” for Aotearoa New Zealand.go back