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Why Republicans won’t be moving to Australia (despite their tweets)

MinnPost photo by Craig Lassig
Reactions after President Barack Obama is declared the winner at the Republican Party of Minnesota Election Night Party in Bloomington.

This year, as the mathematical models of New York Times’ Nate Silver and other statisticians began showing that the odds of President Barack Obama being reelected were huge, some disgruntled voters on the right tweeted that they would be moving to Australia if those prognostications proved true.

Eight years ago, it was people on the left who huffed about packing up and leaving the U.S. if President George W. Bush got reelected. Their political haven of choice, however, was closer and colder: Canada.

But, of course, very, very few people actually move when a presidential election — or other political event — doesn’t go their way. (In 2010, Rush Limbaugh famously declared he’d relocate to Costa Rica if the Affordable Care Act became law. He’s still ensconced in Palm Beach, Fla.)

Overestimating the pain

In an article published online Wednesday on the Atlantic magazine’s website, Adam Alter, an assistant professor of marketing and psychology at New York University’s Stern School of Business, tells us why Australia need not worry about an influx of immigration applications from America’s Republicans.

“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,” he writes.

Alter points to a classic 1978 study in which social psychologist Philip Brickman made the counterintuitive finding that people who had become severely disabled in accidents were only modestly less happy than lottery winners.

“Brickman’s results were far from a fluke, as a group of social psychologists showed sixteen years later, in 1994, when George W. Bush beat incumbent Democratic governor Ann Richards to become the 46th governor of Texas,” writes Alter. “Shortly before the election, [Harvard University psychologist] Dan Gilbert and his colleagues asked a sample of voters to predict how they’d feel when their preferred candidate either won or lost the election. Anticipating a Bush victory, the Democratic voters expected to be much less happy than they were before the election, while Republican voters expected to ride a wave of long-term elation. A month later, when the researchers contacted them again, the voters had returned to the business of everyday life, noting that they were just as happy or sad as they had been before the election. The election’s effects on their lives, for good or bad, were surprisingly modest and short-lived.”

A ‘psychological quirk’

One of the “psychological quirks” that makes us overestimate the impact that an event like an election will have on our lives, adds Alter, is “our tendency to overestimate how long psychological pain will last.”

Just as you might treat a deep gash with antibiotic ointment and bandages, we’re equipped with a sophisticated psychological immune system that targets serious psychological injury. For ardent Romney supporters — particularly those who expected him to win easily — that pain is likely to be severe, and the psychological immune system kicks in more keenly following greater injury.

So while the loss hurts a lot at first, it hurts less with each passing day, until the post-election era becomes a new normal. Like Ann Richards supporters a month after she lost the 1994 Texas gubernatorial election to George W. Bush, in a matter of weeks Republicans who promised to decamp to Canada if Barack Obama won a second term will go back to living the same lives in the same country they inhabited before the calamity of a Democratic victory in the 2012 Presidential election.

Oh, and for those on the right who still insist that they’re going to be decamping for Australia: You may want to do some research first. As one Down-Under resident reminded Republicans on Twitter this week, Australia has universal health care, strict gun laws, no death penalty, openly gay politicians and judges, and a female prime minister who is an unmarried atheist.

You can read Alter’s article on the Atlantic’s website.

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Comments (12)

  1. Submitted by Sheila Ehrich on 11/08/2012 - 09:58 am.

    where to move to

    I always swore I would be moving to Norway if Romney won the election. At least I have family there and believe in socialism.

    That last paragraph was just too funny.

    Is there really anywhere Republicans could move to that would meet their needs and desires?? I really don’t think so.

  2. Submitted by chuck holtman on 11/08/2012 - 10:48 am.

    Though your article is tongue in cheek

    Its premise is deeply flawed. The establishment and its media have worked hard to turn decisions about self-governance into a vicarious extension of clan battles and just another form of spectator sport. This pacifies and dumbs down the population and makes staying on top simple. In this context, an election outcome can be quickly forgotten, like a meaningless football game, in anticipation of the next event that will be staged for our passive consumption. However, decisions we make about self-governance actually affect the sort of society we and our children will live in. After the immediate emotion has faded there are real facts on the ground, and leaving the country (or giving your children the means to do so) can be a rational and necessary thing to do, not a fleeting emotional response.

  3. Submitted by Jim Odden on 11/08/2012 - 11:29 am.


    Stop light cams are NOT illegal in Australia. Cameras also FIND speeders on the Freeway!! Registered owner OR renter of the vehicle IS responsible for fines. Finally, all Aussies that I encountered LOVED me AFTER they learned I was NOT a George Bush Fan! If that’s where Dennis Tester went after the election to find polls that work for him; he will NOT be happy!!

  4. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 11/08/2012 - 12:40 pm.

    Love the last paragraph

    … and leaving the country (or giving your children the means to do so) CAN be a rational and necessary thing to do, but it is NOT a rational or necessary thing to do over an election loss in the United States.

    Granting Mr. Holtman’s more serious turn of mind, and even agreeing that network television, in particular, is far more interested in ratings and advertising revenue than informing the public, I nonetheless think he’s rather wide of the mark. If you live in Syria, and oppose the Assad regime, getting out of the country might be absolutely the best thing you can do, or enable your children to do, but in that case, we’re talking about a government in the middle of a civil war, that promises (and apparently delivers) aircraft and infantry attacks on cities and even neighborhoods.

    That’s not in the same universe as one’s candidate losing an election, even after the “emotion has faded” and the “facts on the ground” are more readily apparent. Election outcomes not only can but ARE quickly forgotten, to the psychological benefit of all concerned. Were that not the case, Florida’s Secretary of State would have been tried, convicted and put to death by Democrats immediately after the election of 2008 for her manipulation of the election process in Florida in 2000. To my knowledge, that didn’t happen.

    • Submitted by chuck holtman on 11/08/2012 - 04:39 pm.

      Mr. Schoch: Let me say it a different way, in that your thoughtfulness is regularly evident on these pages.

      One of the several dangers of subscribing to “American exceptionalism” is assuming its corollary, “It can’t happen here.” Civilization is a fragile thing, built over centuries, and there are forces that can undermine it in favor of authoritarianisms, and quite more quickly, and especially as a population becomes less engaged in civic thought, more economically straitened, and more at the mercy of those who seek to create and dispense the conventional wisdom.

      One with a conceptual bent can observe society’s threads (political, economic, environmental, semiotic), as well as how those threads manifest themselves at discrete moments (such as elections) and, from those, perceive a society’s trajectories either toward mutually supportive self-determination, or toward authoritarianism, along with a sense of the pace of things. That our society has always appeared stable and centered on liberal values even in turbulent times does not mean it cannot be dislodged quickly and decisively from this foundation. In that regard, I believe we are at a time of threat.

      There are those in our nation, and even more the class of “stateless” folks, who pursue self interest only, heedless to the collateral damage, and some who do so at such a scale that it can measurably tilt our society toward authoritarianism. If I do not owe it to myself, I at least owe it to my children to not foreclose the possibility of emigration as the best option for a decent life. It is not a single election result in isolation that would prompt this, but an election could be the culmination of trends from which one would have to conclude that “It can happen here, and has (or is about to).” Fortunately, this election was not such an outcome, and indeed the turnout of youth and diversity offers hope that we can move in the direction of a reinvigorated, open, creative and mutually supportive society.

      • Submitted by Ray Schoch on 11/08/2012 - 08:41 pm.

        I completely agree

        …except for the last sentence in paragraph 2, and even there, I’d be inclined to agree. Where we part ways probably has to do with the degree of that perceived threat. I wouldn’t argue that there is no threat, just that I’ve not moved as far along the scale as you appear to have moved in observing it. I couldn’t agree more that we take (far too) much for granted in this country, and I’d never say, either literally or by implication, that “It can’t happen here.” I taught American history and Western Civilization for 30 years, and human history is a long trail, littered throughout its length with the remains of previous civilizations. There’s no reason to believe that our particular version of civilization will somehow be impervious to the same flaws that overtook others. We’re even inventing new problems that, except on a much more local scale, previous civilizations didn’t have to deal with: climate change, environmental damage on a global scale, etc.

        So, I would NOT argue that your concern is totally divorced from reality. I just don’t personally happen to believe that we’ve reached the point where shifting residence to another country seems like a good idea as a response to an election. On the rare occasions when I think about becoming an expatriate, the motivation is primarily economic rather than political, though I’m well aware that there’s a relationship between the two. It mostly has to do with selfishly trying to maintain a modest standard of living on an income that has never reached the median level. If I were really serious about it, I’d learn a foreign language, and so far, I’ve made no attempt to do so.

  5. Submitted by Bob Lawrence on 11/08/2012 - 02:36 pm.


    In response to Sheila Ehrich, comment above, moving to Austrialia or anywhere else is nothing more than a figure of speach, based on the frustration level we have with our government. Just like when Bush was in office you libs wanted to leave, but didn’t. Even a moderate Republican like myself is frustrated, as I, like most Americans are not socialists, like yourself. Maybe New Zealand is a better alternative, but I like Minnesota, as socialist as it seems to be getting.

  6. Submitted by Solly Johnson on 11/08/2012 - 05:59 pm.

    Australia? Why move to a socialist nation? Now that the GOP has regained control of both houses of the state legislature in Wisconsin and with Scott Walker leading the way, they have a right wing haven across the river. Moving costs will be minimal for those concerned about fiscal matters.

  7. Submitted by Matt Haas on 11/08/2012 - 06:47 pm.

    Please Mr. Lawrence

    Do a little research. Figure out what socialism actually IS. (Please note I am not attempting snark and or disparagement here, I’m being serious) I am getting so tired of the empty cliche of “socialism” being thrown out at every point a conservative decides they don’t like something. Which portion of socialist entities like the military do you dislike? Do you think we should have separate utility lines for every household just so we can maintain proper competition in the utility sector? No I know, you’d like to pay a toll every mile so we can get rid of those socialist transportation departments. I for one would love to inspect food and drugs myself to ensure their safety, what with my outstanding toy chemistry set and a little internet research I should be fine right? ( Ok I admit a little snark there) Point is, you don’t like the way the country is headed, fine, but at least have a rational argument why. Don’t stoop to pejorative use of a word you clearly don’t understand very well.

  8. Submitted by Robert Bolstad on 11/09/2012 - 06:21 am.

    immigrating to Australia

    Considering the conduct and worse, the attitudes behind the conduct, of republican politicians and their minions, the Australian government would have to be out of its mind to allow these individuals into their country even as tourists. Immigration is a privilege, not a right. These individuals have done everything possible to convince Australians that republicans haven’t earned the privilege of immigrating to their country and never will.

  9. Submitted by Karen Sandness on 11/12/2012 - 04:03 pm.

    I cannot think of any modern industrialized country

    that ISN’T to the left of the United States in some respect.

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