Feature Archive

Optimists Rule!

Why? They win elections.

WebMD Feature

Sept. 15, 2000 -- Americans love to look at the bright side of life, a fact politicians ignore at their peril. Dour Bob Dole, campaigning against Bill "The Comeback Kid" Clinton, lost the presidency after he started blaming big government for every ill. And Walter Mondale, who moaned about the budget deficit and nuclear stockpiling, was squashed by Ronald "It's Morning in America" Reagan.

But just how important is optimism to voters? Crucial, say psychologists at the University of Pennsylvania and Temple University. By their analysis, Americans have picked the most optimistic candidate in all but four national elections since 1900.

By measuring the optimism in candidates' statements, these researchers successfully predicted the winners of the presidential election in 1988, then again in 1996. (They made no prediction in 1992). Now they're putting their reputation on the line again, calling Al Gore the most optimistic major party candidate and, therefore, the next president of the United States.

The prediction has surprised many observers, who say that George W. Bush comes across as the most upbeat and outgoing of the two major party candidates. "When you think of Al Gore, the first word that comes to mind isn't optimism," says Bill Turque, a senior editor at Newsweek and author of Inventing Al Gore. "If anything he's got an apocalyptic streak."

But Temple psychologist David M. Fresco, PhD, says his team of forecasters doesn't define optimism as a sunny disposition or a knack for being liked. Instead, they rate a candidate's ability to look at complex problems and generate workable alternatives.