Hofstra held its recurring Distinguished Faculty Lecture on Thursday, Nov. 6, in the Guthart Cultural Center Theater. The annual lecture was established in 1981 and each year, new faculty members are chosen to give the lecture based upon their research and publications.
Shawn Thelen and Boonghee Yoo, professors of marketing and international business in the Frank G. Zarb School of Business, were selected to give the lecture based on their research regarding how demographic and psychographic perception of a candidate’s character affected the 2016 presidential election.
In their lecture, both professors spoke about the research they conducted one week prior to the 2016 presidential election. Thelen and Yoo collected data through a program called “MTurk,” which enabled them to survey hundreds of voters regarding their personal feelings toward each candidate’s character, as well as each candidate’s platform.
Thelen and Yoo employed four models in their research: demographics, campaign issues, perceived character of Donald Trump and perceived character of Hillary Clinton. The majority of data Thelen and Yoo collected showed that the perceived character of the candidates greatly affected the voters’ choices.
Candidate character includes whether voters found each candidate to be sincere, ethical, concerned, honest and believable. “Voters for Trump found him to have good character and Clinton lacking in character, while Clinton supporters found her to have good character and Trump lacking in character,” Thelen said. “Character played a larger role in voter choice than demographics or psychographics.”
As marketing professors, Thelen and Yoo used their expertise to compare character to brand image. “Character in our definition is very close to image,” Yoo said. “It’s like brand image. It’s our subjective perception of a candidate’s character.”
One of the main components of each candidate’s “brand” were their campaign slogans. As was demonstrated during the election, Trump had one very short, simple slogan that was easy to remember while Clinton had multiple slogans that were complex in nature. “He had a simple brand identity and she had a very complex, multi-faceted brand identity that I don’t think people could digest,” Thelen said.
Thelen and Yoo both agreed that the 2016 presidential election was unlike any previous election. Thelen described this election as “the first election in modern history that had two candidates running that people didn’t like.” While candidate character greatly impacted voter choice, the researchers found that the likability rating for each candidate was below 50%, an unprecedented percentage.
In conjunction with that piece of data, Thelen and Yoo found that many Americans who voted for Barack Obama in the past voted for Trump, and people who were supportive of Bernie Sanders also voted for Trump.
Thelen and Yoo recognized that Obama, Sanders and Trump were all perceived as outsiders. From Yoo’s point of view, “The outsider benefit is that it welcomes innovation.” Yoo believes that when overall perception of the U.S. government is negative, voters will support the outsider because they are looking for a drastic change.
In terms of how the 2020 presidential election will play out, Thelen and Yoo are unsure as to who will win based on current perceived candidate character.
“I feel that the vast dissatisfaction across different groups will cause personal grievances against the president and people will vote for a new candidate based off their emotions,” said Nicolas Sohan, a sophomore political science major.