September 20, 2000bb-121
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AL GORE'S OPTIMISM INDICATES VICTORY IN NOVEMBER, TEMPLE UNIVERSITY CLINICAL PSYCHOLOGIST SAYS
Al Gore is more optimistic than George W. Bush and is likely to win the 2000 presidential race, according to a Temple University psychologist.
David Fresco, a post-doctoral fellow who conducts research in the University's clinical division of psychology, says Gore scores significantly higher than Bush on an optimism scale that rates presidential candidates based on their speeches. The scale, which uses raters to determine which candidates' statements are most optimistic--or pessimistic--goes from 3 (most optimistic) to 21 (most pessimistic).
His research, which includes a team of psychologists, analyzes speeches of the candidates from the day they declare their candidacy until their convention acceptance speech. The study is an outgrowth of work done by psychologists at the University of Pennsylvania who retrospectively rated the optimism of candidates from 1900-1984.
When rating only their convention acceptance speeches, Gore, says Fresco, scores a 9.7 on the optimism scale, while Bush scores an 11.2. When the entire campaign is considered, the difference is smaller--9.3 for Gore and 10 for Bush. In both cases, the difference is meaningful, according to Fresco, who has conducted the study as a predictor of campaign success since 1996.
"Optimists are people who live longer, have success in school, sports and business--and win presidential elections," says Fresco. "Optimistic candidates are often effective thinkers who end up choosing an effective solution."
In this year's presidential race, says Fresco, "Gore breaks things down into their core element and tells you what solution he sees. Bush is good for a sound bite, but he doesn't really lead you to what he's going to do about an issue.
"When we talk about optimism, it's not like a Pollyanna, rose-colored-glasses kind of thing," Fresco continues. "Optimism is about seeing things clearly and responding to what you see with appropriate action--even when that course of action is very difficult."
Raters who participated in the study analyzed the candidates' speeches without knowing the speaker's identity. Raters focused on statements that both clearly described a problem facing the candidate or the nation and described the reason/solution the candidate proposed.
Optimists tend to view problems as solvable because they come from specific or transient causes, Fresco says. Pessimists tend to see problems as arising from permanent and pervasive causes and may believe a solution is out of reach.
"Gore's superior optimism score is most attributable to the way he frames the problems facing our society and to the shortcomings he sees in the policies proposed by the Bush campaign," says Fresco, adding that partisan attacks on opponents, especially involving character issues, "cost candidates in pessimism points."
With the exception of 1968, when Richard Nixon (optimism: 8.7) narrowly defeated Hubert Humphrey (optimism: 8.6), the more optimistic presidential candidate has won every election since 1948, according to Fresco.
Harry S. Truman (optimism: 7.2), who stunned Thomas Dewey (optimism: 12.1)--and Chicago Daily Tribune headline writers--with a come-from-behind victory in 1948, holds the distinction for delivering the most optimistic acceptance speech of any 20th century candidate. Adlai Stevenson (optimism: 12.6), who lost to Dwight Eisenhower (optimism: 8.7) in the 1952 race, "has the dubious distinction of delivering the most pessimistic acceptance speech of any candidate.
"The three most optimistic candidates have been Truman, Ronald Reagan in 1984, and John F. Kennedy," adds Fresco, noting that both Reagan and Kennedy scored optimism ratings of less than 8. "In 1976, Jimmy Carter (optimism: 8.1) narrowly defeated President Gerald Ford (optimism: 9) in the election between two of history's most optimistic presidential hopefuls."
In the 1996 race, Bill Clinton rated a 9.4 on the scale compared with opponent Bob Dole, who rated a 12.2. Most candidates, says Fresco, score a 12 or below on the rating scale.