You're Not Moving to Canada: The Psychology of Post-Election Melodrama

By Adam Alter, Assistant Professor of Marketing with affiliated appointment in the Psychology Department

For the vast majority, the effects of Obama's victory will be much less drastic than expected.

Eight years ago, when the polls began to favor George W. Bush over John Kerry, thousands of progressive Americans planned their exodus to Canada. Canadian immigration applications rose threefold as Kerry's demise loomed, and when Bush emerged victorious, some diehard liberals followed through and fled northward. But six months later, when the post-election smoke cleared, the numbers turned out to be far less impressive than they first appeared. Many of those early applicants withdrew their immigration papers, and chose instead to brace for four years of mild, protracted disgruntlement. In fact, when analysts looked back, the rate of U.S.-Canadian immigration fell during the six month period following President Bush's election to a second term in office. Two years later, on the other side of the political aisle, conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh famously promised to leave for Costa Rica if the Affordable Care Act passed in 2010. The Act passed, but Limbaugh continues to live in Palm Beach, Florida.

Now that Barack Obama has emerged victorious, a new crop of immigration promises will go unfulfilled. Just after the election, Republicans are hurting -- but they'll calm down just as Kerry supporters did when Bush was elected to a second term in 2004.

The question, then, is why we're treated to this spike in melodrama every four years. And the answer comes down to a simple psychological truth: that people have no idea how much pain they'll feel when they experience a dreaded outcome.

Read full article as published in The Atlantic.