What Bernie Sanders and Ted Cruz supporters have in common

Updated 12:24 PM ET, Thu November 14, 2019

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Julia A. Minson is an associate professor of public policy at Harvard Kennedy School, where Charles A. Dorison is a doctoral candidate and Todd Rogers is a professor of public policy. The views expressed in this commentary are their own. View more opinion on CNN.

(CNN)What were you doing on January 20, 2017?

Like many Americans, you may have tuned in to watch President Donald Trump give his inaugural address. Or, maybe like others, you may have avoided it entirely, for fear of how it would make you feel.
As behavioral scientists aiming to understand what drives political division, we saw this as a perfect opportunity to conduct an experiment. Seconds after the address ended, we used an online platform to recruit over 200 Americans who had voted for Hillary Clinton to participate in a survey.
Charles A. Dorison, Julia A. Minson and Todd Rogers
We first asked the voters to predict how they expected to feel if they were to watch the 17-minute inauguration address (which most of them had avoided doing), by checking off which emotions they would experience and how strongly. We then asked them to watch the entire address and report how they actually felt by considering the same emotions again.
A few hours and a collection of angry emails later, we had our results: It turns out, listening to Trump's inaugural address wasn't as bad an experience for them as the Clinton voters had predicted. While our participants may not have been persuaded by many of Trump's arguments, they ended up agreeing with more of his speech than they expected going in. Indeed, participants reported that the experience was better than expected 61% of the time, exactly as expected 11% of the time and worse than expected just 28% of the time.
To us, this study suggested that political disagreement might not elicit as much negative emotion as people typically expect it to. It also provided a small window into how Americans could begin to bridge divides by exposing themselves to contrary political positions.
Of course, one study was not enough to fully convince us. Maybe it was just something about this speech, or this day? Isn't it the case that any president has a team of professional writers crafting speeches that would have broad appeal?