This spillover effect, leading from a feeling of well-being after a team's win to positively affect the incumbent's vote, also held true for presidential approval ratings. The authors also conducted a survey during the 2009 NCAA Men's College Basketball Tournament. "Each additional adjusted win experienced by respondents significantly increased approval of President Obama's job performance, with the effect size being 2.3 percentage points," noted the report.
The researchers went a step further to see if the effect was conscious or subconscious and found it was a subconscious influence. "The results show that making the game outcomes salient eliminated their impacts," they wrote. "By moving subconscious considerations into the forefront, the experimental prime allowed people to decouple their mood change induced by their team's fortune from the political object of judgment."
If people understood that the reason they felt better was due to a team win and not due to an incumbent's performance, they were able to "reject irrelevant information since people understand that their current state of well-being is unrelated to an incumbent's performance in office."
During Bill Clinton's 1992 campaign, Democratic political adviser James Carville coined the phrase, "It's the economy stupid." This proved a turning point in the campaign, refocusing the electorate on the economy and recent recession rather than on President George H.W. Bush's successes in foreign policy.
Based on their research, the authors believe that the effect of the economy on voting is "not about rational voters processing relevant information ... . Voters' general sense of well-being serves as a conduit between the state of the economy and electoral outcomes." Their takeaway -- how the economy affects voters' sense of well-being -- is what is important.
As we move into the 2010 elections this fall, we might want to keep in mind the effect that irrelevant events may have on our actions. And if college football season is not enough, we may also want to brace ourselves for the issues and ads that will be created by political consultants to try to affect our votes by toying with our emotions.
The current financial crisis has led many to criticize and rethink the efficient market hypothesis. This season, we need to critically process and rethink what should and should not affect our votes.
I can't wait until college football season.