A Missouri based researcher says people who support losing presidential candidates are especially emotional after elections.

Lamar Pierce - Associate Professor - Olin Business School Washington University - Photo courtesy of Washington University

Lamar Pierce – Associate Professor – Olin Business School Washington University – Photo courtesy of Washington University

Washington University Professor Lamar Pierce, an associate professor of organization and strategy at the Olin Business School in St. Louis, co-authored a report which examined happiness levels of people who identified with a political party during the 2012 election.

For comparison, the study also looked at human response to two tragedies – the Boston Marathon bombing and the Sandy Hook shooting.

Surprisingly, the negative impact on happiness from the tragedies was almost identical to the reaction of people on the losing side of the election.  “What that suggest to us is that the effects we saw on happiness were really quite big from the elections” said Pierce.  “These weren’t, sort of inconsequential, like ‘Oh yeah I feel a little bit unhappy’.  These (reactions) were, sort of, the order of magnitude as the tragedies were.  And that suggests that people really take these election outcomes to heart from an emotional standpoint.”

The study also shows that several days after the election, the negative impact on those on the losing Republican side had completely subsided.  Pierce says this result suggests that people involve themselves in elections similar to the way sports fans root for teams.  “It’s really much more about having a candidate, or having a team, and rooting for them.  Then when you lose, it hurts.  But a couple of days you move on…It’s much more of a short term emotional response than it is a real change to their quality of life.”

In contrast, the study showed that people aligned with President Obama were far less emotional immediately after his win in 2012.

As far as this year’s election goes, Pierce thinks the response could be much different.  He says the negative sentiment toward both candidates could alter reaction.  “My sense is that people will be, sort of fundamentally, less disappointed about their candidate losing, but I think even more upset about the other candidate winning.  And that’s just what’s so different about this.  They don’t like their own candidate as much as in the last election.  But in the same sense, they hate opposite candidate even more.”

Pierce is watching to see how partisan lines hold together, especially on the Republican side, given the polarizing effect of Donald Trump.

Pierce conducted the study about the 2012 election along with researchers from the Harvard Kennedy School and the University of California at Los Angeles.  They examined data from thousands of online surveys.  They were assisted by CivicScience, an online polling and market research company.