Understanding emotional reaction to political speeches

Five lessons from a qualitative case study by Ipsos MORI, using heart rate monitoring.

Understanding emotional reaction to political speeches

The author(s)

  • Gideon Skinner Head of Political Research
  • Josh Keith Associate Director
  • Amy Wheeler Senior Research Executive
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Results from our Political Monitor show that perceptions of party leaders appear to be having a greater influence on voting intention in 2017 than in 2015. Utilising complementary research techniques can help us to understand the perceptions of leaders in more depth than asking direct questions alone.

Ipsos MORI conducted a qualitative case study, in May, to explore the comparison between the emotional response to Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn’s first campaign speeches, and what people say they think about political leaders, with a view to combining these visceral reactions with stated responses. Partnering with Heart Never Lies, Ipsos MORI used heart rate variability to measure the emotional response.

Here are five key takeaways from this work – view the full report below to see the detailed findings.

  1. Overall, the first five minutes of both speeches failed to sustain positive engagement with voters, even among their own supporters. May came out slightly on top on average, driven by an early peak.
    General Election 2017 Emotional Study Slide 1
  2. Intense emotional response doesn’t always result in a change in sentiment. For example, the highest emotional peak in May’s speech below, and lack of corresponding explicit response.
    General Election 2017 Emotional Study Slide 2
  3. And vice-versa, explicitly ‘liking’ something is no guarantee of an emotional response. In this case, Corbyn’s biggest moments of stated support are not matched by an equivalent emotional response. 
    General Election 2017 Emotional Study Slide 3
  4. Emotional intensity was more often linked to negative sentiment – and more apparent among supporters of the opposition. The most ‘emotional’ moment for Conservatives watching Corbyn was triggered by their strongest dislike of what he was saying.
    General Election 2017 Emotional Study Slide 4
  5. And finally, as our work for the BBC in 2015 showed, trashing the opposition is risky. As illustrated by the negative response May received, among her own supporters, when referring to the potential ‘coalition of chaos’.
    General Election 2017 Emotional Study Slide 5

Overall, heart rate monitoring does provide lessons for how real voters connect with political leaders, suggesting the potential for further exploration as to how leaders can best engage voters in this way. It is easy to spot when supporters of the opposition dislike something said (which is risky if trying to broaden your church), but harder to spot when there is a spike in emotional response that isn’t explained through sentiment alone.

All in all, there’s much to be learned by politicians about making a connection with the public, and this kind of research is one way in which we can help with this.

Technical Note

  • Ipsos MORI conducted two mini-groups with a total of 11 participants took part on 9th May 2017. Participants were split by current voting intention and reflective of a mix of ages, work status and ethnicity.
  • Participants were shown the first four and a half minutes of the first speeches of the election campaigns from Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn.
  • Heart rate monitors were applied to participants whilst they watched each of the speeches.  A calibration process took into account age, gender, heartbeat, and emotional state at an individual level.  Participants were also given time to relax with no stimulus before and between speeches.
  • Participants then watched the two speeches again answering the following question as frequently as every 5 seconds: do you like what you're seeing / hearing?
  • Follow-up online group discussions were conducted to understand the initial findings, and identify the drivers of emotional response.
  • Ipsos MORI worked with Heart Never Lies to conduct the research. Heart Never Lies collected and processed the heart rate variability data.
  • More details about Heart Never Lies can be found on their website: https://www.hnl-conception.com/

The author(s)

  • Gideon Skinner Head of Political Research
  • Josh Keith Associate Director
  • Amy Wheeler Senior Research Executive

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