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Foreign Leaders Generate More Emotional Response from Dublin Voters than Irish Politicians on Brexit

DUBLIN, Ireland – Politicians from Ireland are less effective in connecting with Dublin voters on the emotional issue of Brexit than their counterparts in other countries, according to a groundbreaking study by cross-Atlantic Irish and U.S. partners.

Among the 11 elected leaders studied, Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney evoked the weakest emotional response from the audience with a 29.5 rating. The Fine Gael TD ranked just below Democratic Unionist Party Leader Arlene Foster from the province of Northern Ireland, who scored 30.1 as indexed by Shimmer Research’s biometric scoring system.

U.S. President Donald Trump and European Council President Donald Tusk scored the strongest average arousal scores, at 38.5 and 36.4, respectively. The arousal scores measure the strength of emotional response rather than whether voters agreed with them. For example, despite generating a strong emotional response, Donald Trump received the lowest approval rating from the respondents, whereas Tusk received the highest approval. However, long-standing research shows that strong emotional connections between voters and politicians make elected leaders more effective in swaying public debates and winning electoral contests.

U.S.-based Bellwether Citizen Response and Republic of Ireland-based Shimmer Research used Shimmer’s NeuroLynQ™ biometric measurement system to tap into voters’ deepest sentiments using wireless biometric technology. The study was conducted in the run-up to an expected critical vote in the British Parliament this week on a new Brexit deal.


Biometric sensors capture galvanic skin response (GSR) to measure changes in emotionally-driven psychophysiological arousal to politicians

Geoffrey Gill, president of Shimmer Americas, stated, “We selected Bellwether to partner with us on this study because they truly understand the connections between non-conscious emotional response and how they impact the actual political decisions that are made.”

According to Elissa Moses, partner at Bellwether, “This advanced technology enables us to measure objective emotional response in real time which was never before possible for political speeches and other types of events as they unfold.”

During the study, which was conducted at Dublin City University, Alpha Campus, audience members viewed videos of politicians talking about Brexit and ranked them according to favorability. While both Tusk and Trump aroused strong emotions, Tusk was ranked most favorable, particularly fueled by high arousal to his quote: “There is a special place in hell for Brexit promoters without a plan!” Trump was ranked the least favorable, being an established Brexit supporter. Other politicians ranked in the study were former House of Commons Speaker John Bercow, 36.37; Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, 35.01; Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage, 30.86; U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson, 33.68; former U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May, 32.17; German Chancellor Angela Merkel, 32.51; U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, 34.87.

Coveney should be particularly concerned about his failure to connect with a Republic of Ireland audience on a strong emotional level, especially as the Brexit vote threatens the stability of the peace process with the prospect of erecting borders once again with Northern Ireland.

The real-time wireless biometric responses measured in the study were galvanic skin responses to assess arousal via minute changes in sweat, and heart rate to measure mental effort, as audience members watched the videos. According to neuroscience research, emotions serve as an essential cue that frame audience response to political communications.


Irish audience’s emotional response being measured simultaneously at Dublin City University.

“Understanding voters’ real-time emotional responses to politicians is critical to unlocking the most effective political communication strategies for each politician,” said Dr. Kimberly Rose Clark, partner at Bellwether. “Beyond Brexit, a politician’s ability to trigger persuasive emotional responses from an audience is a behavioral science framing challenge that’s not one size fits all across politicians.” 

Emotions surrounding the Brexit decision among this audience were confirmed to be strongly negative. Using the Bellwether PIAT (pictorial association task) to test the audience’s specific emotional connections to the Brexit issue, “confusion,” “frustration,” and “anguish” ranked highest among 32 possible positive and negative emotions. “This is an important context to provide perspective on the arousal that is generated by some of the pro-Brexit politicians to the anti-Brexit audience,” said Ms. Moses.

Emotions and Emotional Framing of Brexit
A full array of politicians both for and against Brexit were studied, assessed not only on their stance on the issue but also on how positively or negatively they framed their stance. The research results indicate that the framing of the message overrides the actual content of their speech.

The more an audience member reported to agree with Brexit, the stronger their emotional response to positively framed sentiments in the politicians’ speeches. These findings hold true regardless of the politician’s political stance on Brexit. Audience members that are pro-Brexit were most emotionally affected by positive messages. The more an audience member reported to disagree with Brexit, the stronger their emotional arousal responses were to negative sentiment framing. The more they reported to agree with Brexit, the weaker their responses were to the negative speech. The negative message didn’t affect them.

“There are far-reaching implications from this study for understanding political influence and outcomes when we observe that it may not be what you say, but how you say it (or frame it) that drives emotional response,” concluded Ms. Moses. 

For more information on the study, contact:
Dr. Kimberly Rose Clark kimberlyrclark@bellwethercr.com; +1 617 335 8143.
Ms. Martina Donohue mdonohue@shimmersensing.com +353 1 6875760

Media contact:
Lisa Osborne, Rana Healthcare Solutions, lisa@ranahealth.com, +1 206 992 5245.

About Bellwether Citizens Response
Bellwether Citizen Response is an expert-driven research consultancy led by behavioral scientists and researchers who are renowned for their ability to tap into emotion and reason to develop strategies that influence decisions. We offer a full range of behavioral, cognitive, and emotional research methods combined with deep experience to generate fast, targeted, and effective strategy-oriented solutions. We are driven to help clients successfully achieve goals, communicate and connect with target audiences. Bellwether Citizen Response uniquely leverages sentiment to inform campaigns, policies and social actions. In this way, we aim to facilitate positive change. For more information visit: www.bellwethercr.com.

About Shimmer Research
Founded based on Intel technology in 2008, Shimmer Research is a leading wearable technologies services and sensor manufacturing company based in Dublin, Ireland. Shimmer provides wearable sensor platforms to three primary market segments: Research (www.shimmersensing.com), Consumer Neuroscience (www.NeuroLynQ.com), and Clinical Trials (www.Verisense.net). In addition to standard products, Shimmer provides customized sensor development services, volume manufacturing, and complete wearable sensor solutions of any complexity. Shimmer’s technology and services have been employed by thousands of researchers at leading companies, universities, and research institutes in more than 75 countries. Shimmer’s technology is incorporated in the products and services of more than 20 original equipment manufacturers. Shimmer has an ISO 13485:2016 certified medical devices quality management system. Additional information about Shimmer is also available at www.linkedin.com/company/shimmer or by following @ShimmerSensing.