Home > Inclusion and Identity > Coping with the Vote: Post-Midterm Malaise or Merriment?

Coping with the Vote: Post-Midterm Malaise or Merriment?


By November 7, if all goes well, the midterm elections will be over, and you will know if the candidates you voted for won or lost. You will not be the person standing at the podium giving the victory or concession speech, but if you voted, your party–and you by association–will be either a winner or a loser.

Psychologists probably did not need to do a great deal of research to confirm that people do not respond well to failure, but they did anyway.  That research suggests that, on November 7, the citizens of the US will fall into two different groups: the happy and the sad. When our groups are successful, we ourselves feel happy: elated, optimistic, hopeful, pleased, even joyful. But should our groups fail, we usually experience such negative emotions as sadness, resignation, disappointment, and even depression. These emotions will be all the more intense the more we identify with our groups–the people who canvassed for their favorite political candidate or put up political signs in their front yard will be the ones who feel the loss more profoundly than those who kept themselves apart, psychologically, from this melee.  Moreover, the “agony of defeat” is more psychologically profound than the “thrill of victory.” Our moods become somewhat more positive after our groups win, but our mood plummets following failure.

Nor does it help that the winners in the competition are often less-than-gracious when accepting the mantle of victory.  Their party’s victory becomes their personal victory, and they may seek to emphasize their association with the winning side. Like the sports fan who wears their team’s jersey after a win, they engage in BIRGing: they Bask In Reflected Glory by stressing their association with the successful party. They will be the ones who want to talk about the election for weeks to come, even when their “I voted” sticker has long-since faded. And they will be more likely to gather together, to enjoy the experience collectively.

Those who are devoted to the less successful party, in contrast, face a different problem: They must insulate their own sense of self-worth from the contaminating effects of their group’s setback.  Some will blame the group and its leaders, finding fault in the strategy used in the campaign or the public claims of the party leaders. Most, however, will instead seek other excuses that externalize the group’s failure in some way. Our group would have won, they may argue, had it not been for foreign interference, the dirty tactics of the other party, rampant voter fraud, and so on. They may even justify the outcome by reinterpreting the loss as a victory. Even a loss can be reframed as a wake up call that will rally the party’s true believers in future elections.

So what do these findings suggest if, come November 7, you are one of the millions of unhappy Americans, disappointed in the electorate’s choices of leadership?  Although blaming the other party and its leaders is a natural response, so is accepting the failure as feedback about your party’s position on issues facing the country as a whole. Rather than letting the loss flood into counterproductive anger, frustration, and hostility, harness its positive motivational effects and take steps to build consensus within and between the nation’s political parties. And, what if come November 7, you are one of the happy Americans?  Resist the urge to gloat; Don’t rub it in.


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