American voters, let's talk about your feelings.
With unemployment still hovering close to double digits, frustration and dissatisfaction have been running high in the lead-up to the election. That's not been lost on Democratic candidates and surrogates, who, of late, have spent time on the campaign trail putting the electorate on the proverbial couch.
"People are angry," former President Bill Clinton said yesterday at a campaign event for Washington state incumbent Sen. Patty Murray. "But when you make a decision when you're mad -- about anything, not just politics -- there's an 80 percent chance you make a mistake."
Clinton's suggestion -- that fear and anger can cause voters to make unwise decisions -- appears to go hand in hand with President Barack Obama's warning to Democrats that some voters are reluctant to accept rational political arguments because fear and anxiety are clouding their judgment.
"Part of the reason that our politics seems so tough right now, and facts and science and argument do not seem to be winning the day all the time, is because we're hard-wired not to always think clearly when we're scared," Obama told Democratic donors at a fundraiser in Massachusetts last week. "And the country is scared."
Feelings of "anger" about the country’s economic problems vary across party lines. In a recent ABC News/Yahoo Poll, 12 percent of registered Democrats said they were angry about the economy, compared to 30 percent of independents and more than 40 percent of Republicans.
Of the quarter of the survey's total registered voters who classified themselves as "angry" heading into the midterm elections, a majority said that they blame both parties equally. But an additional 35 percent point the finger just at Democrats, compared to just 10 percent who say the GOP is solely to blame. They also say that they are more likely to vote than those who say that they're "dissatisfied," but not hopping mad.
Studies have shown that anger can be a powerful motivating force for voters. "Anger is an empowering emotion," says Christopher Weber, a professor of political psychology at Louisiana State University. "It mobilizes, and it also has been shown to give people a heightened degree of efficacy -- that's the feeling that they can make a difference."
People are also more likely to become "angry" about a situation if they can point a finger at a particular individual or group, Weber adds. "If blame is clear, if you know who to assign responsibility to, you're more likely to appraise a situation with the result of becoming angry," rather than fearful or anxious, he said.
Now, looking at that highly motivated and angry slice of the electorate eager to place blame on incumbents, Democrats are asking voters to think twice about the consequences of pointing those fingers.
The latest incarnation of the "don't vote mad" riff came Tuesday, when the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee unleashed a new ad in the highly contested state of Nevada, warning the state's voters not to take out their "anger" at the polls.
"You're angry. You're frustrated at Washington," a narrator says as a young pony-tailed woman jabs at a punching bag in a deserted ring. "Think how much angrier you'll be if Sharron Angle has her way." The ad goes on to list some of Angle's more extreme policy proposals (phasing out Social Security) and gaffes (saying that it's "not my job" to create jobs in the state).
"So work that anger out in the ring," the narrator concludes, "Because voting for Sharron Angle is only going to hurt yourself."
The 30-second spot does not once mention Angle's opponent, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid -- a Democrat who has suffered from bleak approval ratings among voters in the state throughout the campaign.
Professor Eric Herzik, who chairs the Department of Political Science at the University of Nevada at Reno, says that although there are not many undecided voters in the Nevada race, the ad could serve to mobilize both Democrats and Republicans who dislike Reid but are wary of Angle's "extreme" policy views.
"You're mad at Obama. So you're going to let Sharron Angle be your senator? You may be angry about the economy, but the alternative is not a good alternative" for many voters in the state who think that Angle is "just too crazy," Herzik said.
Such an argument could drive more Nevada voters eager to register a protest vote to choose the state's unique ballot option -- None of these candidates -- instead of selecting one of the two major party nominees, he added. Political analysts believe that could give Reid an edge in the razor-tight race.
Democrats appear united in warning voters against the dangers of making ballot-box choices rashly because of their discontent with the status quo. But, Republicans argue, it's a strategy that could backfire.
Former Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson skewered Obama for his "hard-wired" comment in a Washington Post column Tuesday, writing that the president demonstrated that he is an "intellectual snob" by arguing that his political opponents "rely on their lizard brains" rather upon the "cognitive reasoning" executed by supporters of his policies.
"Though there is plenty of competition," Gerson wrote, "these are some of the most arrogant words ever uttered by an American president."
So are voters "scared," "angry," or just plain annoyed at having their heads shrunk? We'll know next month when the electorate gets off the couch and into the voting booth.