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, 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 Trump 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, nearly all voters who claimed intention to vote for Trump also felt he would be more likely to win and would benefit more from the debate than Biden, reporting that Trump “seems quicker with his responses,” “can speak much better,” “has a proven track record,” and that “they both tend to say stupid things, but I feel like Trump is more factual and Biden is more emotional.”
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 Trump voters during the debate.
Key Questions About Trump Voters:
What topics did they have the biggest response to?
How did their reactions differ from Biden/Undecided voters?
The two moments that got the biggest reactions from Trump voters, got relatively low responses from Biden voters. Interestingly, these two moments also involved Trump interacting more with Wallace than with Biden.
For example, as Wallace further questioned Trump during the Healthcare segment Trump made jabs at Biden. Here you can see a large reaction from Trump voters while both Biden and Undecided voter reactions stay pretty low.
Wallace questions Trump who says, “Guess I’m debating you not him, not surprised… you could have done it in 47 year period you didn’t”
Another big reaction from Trump voters came during the segment on COVID-19 when Wallace confronted Trump regarding his choice to hold large rallies during a pandemic. Interestingly, this moment also got a big reaction from Undecided voters. It is important to note that we cannot tell if these reactions are positive or negative.
Wallace, “Why hold big rallies” Trump, “Because people want to hear me”
Interruption & Interjections
During this inaugural debate, there were a significant number of interruptions and interjections coming from both candidates, though mostly from Trump himself. These tended to be dynamic interactions with a lot of back and forth between either Trump and Wallace or with Trump and Biden. How did this affect his supporters? Trump voters reacted strongly to his interruptions, both to Wallace and to Biden. While it’s not clear if these reactions were positive or negative to the interruptions, they evoked significant responses.
Notably, Biden and Undecided voters were less responsive to these interruptions.
Biden, “17M with covid… healthcare loss… ACA”; Trump interrupts commenting on Biden’s failed military healthcare
Wallace questions Biden on adding public option healthcare ending private insurance; Biden “It is not” and Trump says, “That’s not what your party says.”
Wallace, “Mr. President can you let him finish”; Biden, “He doesn’t know how to do that” and then Trump responds, “You’d be surprised, he just lost the left.”
Trump “Wait joe, let me shut you down; we just shut down the country… (minimal COVID problem).”
Trump “He has no law enforcement backing… name one that backs you.. name one, go ahead we have time… there aren’t any”
Wallace trying to end debate and Trump yelling that he wants an honest count.
Insults Got Big Reactions
There were several notable jabs and insults that have been immortalized on t-shirts and internet memes since the debate. But how did Trump voters respond to these polarizing insults and comments?
The now famous “will you shut up, man” comment from Biden evoked significant reactions from all voters. But some of the others, like Trump referring to Warren as “Pocahontas” and Biden calling Trump a “liar” seemed to be more evocative to Trump voters than Biden or Undecided voters.
Biden on beating Sanders; Trump, “not by much..” and his “Pocahontas” comment… then Biden says, “I’ll get lucky tonight… everyone knows he’s a liar.”
Trump, “You agreed with Bernie Sanders on a plan” and Biden (to camera), “Folks, do you have any idea what this CLOWN is doing?”
Trump interrupting to tell Biden to answer questions; Biden, “Will you shut up, man? This is so unpresidential” then Wallace interrupts to end the segment
Trump “Don’t ever use the word smart with me… 47 years you’ve done nothing”