How you feel profoundly shapes what you think and decide. As a European marketing executive looking from the outside in at this U.S. election season, I was fascinated by the question of what emotions drove the outcome of the 2020 Presidential election and statewide races.

My firm, along with Cygnal, a leading American polling and market research firm, conducted an extensive survey of 2,000 American voters to explore what emotions inspired Americans to vote the way they did, ultimately resulting in a victory for President-elect Joe Biden. 

Voters Believe America is On the Wrong Track

We found that 80 percent of Republicans and Democrats said they are sad, angry, or fearful with two-thirds of Americans believing the nation is on the wrong track. The most common reasons for these negative emotions include the coronavirus pandemic, the economic downturn, and civil unrest spreading across America’s cities. 

An Edict to Govern in 2021

Our poll of both Republicans and Democrats suggests that when Biden is sworn into office on Jan. 20, he should evoke feelings of not only trust and joy but also some anger. Why anger? Because Americans are angry and want an executive-in-chief who shares this feeling and is upset enough to do something about the challenges facing the nation. Voters want a president who will take a new approach and lead the nation by solving the issues causing the most angst and anxiety among voters. How does Biden cut through these negative emotions? We advise the future president to focus on three things: beat the coronavirus, repair the economy, and remedy racial injustices and quiet social unrest. Biden should wear his heart on his sleeve as he leads on these policy measures. He should meet voters where they are at by leaning into the feelings that Americans are experiencing. Voters will welcome a President who openly expresses joy, hope, and righteous anger—these are the aspirational emotions that voters want in their president. 

At the state level, local leaders including newly elected officials, face the same challenges of governing during a time when most voters are feeling overwhelmingly bleak about the nation’s state of affairs. In Colorado, a state where Trump lost to Biden by nearly 13 points, lawmakers recently rushed a special session to pass COVID-related relief measures for small business. Yet ironically, this contentious special session demonstrated lawmakers are split over coronavirus precautions and corresponding policy. We believe Colorado voters are going to demand better from their representatives when the 2021 legislative session convenes.

On racial and social injustices, we advise Biden to be a champion of comprise to those on the left and the right. At the state level, moderate Democrats can position themselves to support police while affirming the need for police reform and attendant policies that can help advance racial justice.

A Mandate for Kitchen Table Economics

Americans told us that “the country’s economic stability” was their main worry (46 percent) over “my family’s health” (43 percent) or “my family’s safety” (37 percent). As the promising Coronavirus vaccines start to roll out, optimism is likely to be restored but the record unemployment numbers and small-business closures will still leave many feeling melancholy and somber.

With nearly 100,000 Coloradans on regular unemployment, these numbers tell us that state Democrats eschew any talk of socialism and focus on a plan to manage COVID and repair the economy. During the Clinton era, voters trusted in Democrats’ ability to make the right decisions on economic and fiscal stability and that should be the model going forward for Biden and Democrats governing locally.

Uniting a Divided State and Country

Americans have a new president, but the nation is still riven by ideological differences. Seventy million Americans voted for Trump, far from the flat-out rejection of Trump and his policies that many pundits predicted and Democrats hoped for. In Colorado and despite a Democratic-controlled state House and Senate, the state saw Republican firebrand Lauren Boebert take Colorado’s Third Congressional District, defeating a veteran former state legislator. Colorado is a microcosm seen in other parts of the country where progressive cities, resorts, and ski towns, buttress up to more conservative ranching or working-class, blue-collar regions. 

Perhaps not since 1968, when the U.S. was divided over Vietnam and the civil rights movement, has America seemed fractured, this divided among its people. President-elect Biden has said it is time to heal the soul of America. For him to accomplish that goal, he must continue to lead from the heart and recognize that Americans’ anger, sadness, and fear are profound shifting tectonic plates beneath the landscape of vote counts and policy disputes.

Local politicians in states like Colorado that have growing economics and industries connected to global markets must learn to coexist, compromise, come to the center, and agree on bipartisan policy in 2021. Policy is ultimately downstream from cultural forces that are driven by the emotions and beliefs that voters have. When the political pendulum swings too far right or too far left, voters are often the losers when politicians advance their own agenda over bread-and-butter issues

Gyula Balásy: Founder and owner of Hungary’s largest marketing communications agency, the Lounge Group. Having received a degree in economics, he began working for Leo Burnett, but also worked for Grey Worldwide and Lowe GGK. Over the years, the business he founded in 2004, grew into a full-service company group. Besides numerous local awards, the company was awarded the Golden City Gate and the Eventex Awards several times.

Research method: The survey was carried out by Cygnal using a 2,000-person public opinion poll from Sept. 5-7, 2020.