- The Washington Times
Sunday, September 28, 2008

The mighty pundits have plenty of competition for the American attention span. For better or worse, analysts of many persuasions are weighing in on the presidential election as a cultural event - and the diverse factors which could determine the victor.

Take the value of a sunny disposition, for example.

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania’s Positive Psychology Center have determined that the more “optimistic” candidate will win in November, basing their conclusion on an analysis of elections and campaign speeches since 1900. Eighty percent of past presidential winners were the more optimistic, they found.

Sens. Barack Obama of Illinois and John McCain of Arizona were determined to be “equally optimistic,” while Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin “slightly more optimistic” than her vice-presidential rival, Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, “the most pessimistic” of the four.

“Shifts in optimism and rhetoric over the next few weeks may very well predict which side emerges as the victor,” lead analyst Stephen Schueller said.

It’s America’s children who will predict the winner, says the Weekly Reader - yes, that Weekly Reader - which has asked youngsters to “vote” in their classrooms in every presidential election since 1956.

Strategists, take heed. The children’s vote has predicted the correct winner 12 out of 13 times; the results of the 14th vote will be released Oct. 29.

Optimism and youth may rule perhaps, but glibness matters. How many “ums” and “ers” will we hear from the candidates at this crucial time?

“People are very, very concerned about the style of the message. Style has a strong impact on whether you are persuaded,” said Randy Sparks, a marketing analyst at the University of Dayton.

“The degree to which a speaker is fluent has an effect on his or her credibility. Even though what someone says may make sense, you are more likely to think they don’t know what they’re talking about,” he said.

“Obama tends to do better with a prepared speech,” he said, good for the voter seeking grandeur. But “if you want something in a more folksy sort of way, the unscripted town-hall setting that McCain prefers will be effective.”

Then there’s the ever-important snooze factor.

Twenty percent of Americans say they will sleep worse if Mr. Obama is elected; with 15 percent saying they will sleep worse if Mr. McCain is elected, this according to a survey of 2,000 adults from the Sleep Better Organization, a consumer research group.

Some may think the election is a snore, though. More than 50 percent of all respondents say they will not lose sleep regardless of the victor, the survey found.

White House hopefuls themselves are not immune, apparently.

“Get some sleep,” Wake Forest University communications professor Allan Louden advised them. “These candidates have to be exhausted. And that is when mistakes happen.”

Human procrastination may also sway a close election, according to University at Buffalo political scientist Joshua Dyck, who notes that “people who register to vote closer to registration deadlines are much more likely to vote on Election Day than are people who register earlier in an election year.”

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