As President Donald Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden faced off on stage for the first time, a consortium of market research companies (HCD Research Inc., Shimmer Research Inc., IVP Research Labs, and The Schlesinger Group) used neuroscience measurement to gauge voter response to the September 29th Presidential Debate. Applied neuroscience, also known as neuromarketing, allows marketers to identify non-conscious response to communications. Biometric practitioners and neuropolitical experts suggest neuro-measures can tap into reactions that voters are often unwilling or unable to express.
We identified key salient moments (when Biden Voters’ physiological reaction was greatest – with the majority of the group experiencing sustained (3+ seconds) increases in both moderate and/or high arousal for a total score above 130/200). The graphs below represent these salient moments where scores were averaged over the salient time periods (3+ seconds, which differ for each moment).
Many voters have known who they are voting for, long before these debates. Expectations of these pre-decided voters are that they will side with their own candidate over the opponent. In fact, going into the debate, the majority of voters who claimed intention to vote for Biden, in our study, also believed that Biden would win and benefit most from the debate. They stated, “I feel the debate skills that Joe Biden possess are greater than Donald Trump’s,” “I believe he (Biden) is smarter,” “Trump will overreact and be perceived as unprofessional,” and “He (Biden) appears more genuine and honest.”
But what would their psychophysiological responses reveal about how they reacted to the live performances of each candidate? Below are the results focusing on the big reaction moments of Biden voters during the debate.
Key Questions About Biden Voters:
- What topics did they have the biggest response to?
- How did their reactions differ from Trump/Undecided voters?
Notably, we didn’t see as the same magnitude of reaction from Biden Voters as we did for Trump voters. Where the largest Trump Voter reactions topped over 160 on our scoring, only 1 moment scored over 150 for Biden Voters.
During the segment discussing COVID-19, Wallace asked Trump about holding rallies during a pandemic and about not wearing masks publicly. Trump suggested that all Biden does is wear masks while he only wears them when needed. This evoked the largest reaction from Biden voters for the night as well as a big reaction from Undecided Voters.
With the Crowd:
Biden voters had a very large reaction, alongside Trump and Undecided Voters, to Biden’s frustration with Trump’s reactions, culminating in his now famous “Will you shut up, man” jab. It’s not clear whether this was a positive or negative response by voters. But given the consensus among all three voter groups in reactivity, it is clear this was a big moment during the debate.
Interruption & Interjections
There was a lot of arguing during this debate that did not follow the debate rules. The candidates interrupted one another which often led to bickering, with most of the interruptions coming from Trump. But how did Biden voters feel about the interruptions and bickering?
Biden voters had bigger reactions to these moments of bickering than Trump or Undecided voters. Both Biden and Undecided Voters reacted strongly to Wallace scolding Trump about the interruptions.
Biden Bites Back
Many insults flew around during the debate from both candidates. We did wonder if voters would react more strongly to insults toward or from their candidate. For Biden voters, moments when Biden threw his own insults at Trump evoked significant response.
Moments of Clarity
Despite all the chaos and bickering, there were moments of clarity where the candidates gave clear responses to questions. As we examined these big moments when Biden voters had big reactions, we found that some of these seem to be when Biden was able to clearly respond to questions and state his position.
Notably, Trump voters also responded strongly when Biden asserted that he would accept election results.
There has been quite a bit of criticism over Trump’s comments regarding Biden’s sons, namely Hunter Biden. The moment was quite heated and quite emotional for both candidates leading Biden to direct attention to the audience and not Trump. There was much bickering during this segment which led Wallace to intervene and try to bring the debate back to order.
While these reactions seem to be in response to Wallace’s scolding, it was clear that Biden voters were more reactive to this moment. Especially compared to Undecided voters, who seemed to be disengaged with very small reactivity.