If elections are like a deal process where the candidates negotiate for voters’ attention and favour then the US election should be a pretty interesting negotiation.

Most negotiations are resolved on the basis of meeting the participants underlying emotional needs. These are not to be confused with surface “content” needs like “price” or “quantity”. In an election like the US Presidential election the situation is no different. It will be the emotional needs of the electorate which have to be addressed rather than surface issues which dominate the media like “budget deficits” or “Iran”.

Sometimes voters have an “achievement” need to usher in a new regime of change, and certainly Obama benefitted from this sentiment last time – after 8 years of Bush, America wanted a new broom. Or sometimes voters may feel they yearn for someone who gives them a sense of “belonging”. Obama benefitted from this trend last time as well, with his inclusive approach and his internet strategy embracing millions.

On this occasion though, it may be a need for “reassurance” that dominates with the electorate – an anxious desire to be able to believe that everything is going to be ok. This would not be at all surprising given the extremely fragile state of the US and international economy. Emotional needs can be ranked, and people tend to satisfy their lower order needs like a need for “reassurance” before they attempt to satisfy higher-order needs like “belonging” and then “achievement”, so reassurance may well be the order of the day for the next US election.

So, who is the most reassuring candidate?

Obama has a bit of a deficit in this area at the moment, as people have spotted that there is a difference between what he says and what he does. His rhetoric is always very compelling, but this has not been matched by action. Some of this is down to the legislative paralysis which has accompanied a Democratic President dealing with a largely Republican Congress, but even allowing for this there is a credibility gap emerging for Obama, and as a negotiator if people don’t believe you mean what you say then you are in trouble. On the other hand Obama does have the “reassurance” factor of being the incumbent President – this gives him a natural aura of authority which any challenger will have to overcome.

So, will the Republican candidate provide more reassurance than Obama? Well this in part depends on who the Republicans pick. Previous front-runners have not inspired confidence. Governor Perry could not remember on air exactly which Government Departments he was going to close. Herman Cain seemed unsure exactly which country Libya was. Michele Bachmann has very divisive views which are unlikely to provide reassurance to a majority. Newt Gingrich is the latest front runner, but his colourful private life is likely to be a real turn off for some voters, and he also seems prone to intemperate outbursts – as indicated by his recent tirade against Palestinian “terrorists”. For this he was attacked even by the right-wing “National Review”.

Mitt Romney may be a bit dry but seems to be the most reassuring Republican candidate. Dry but reliable is good in the present world of uncertainty. His recent on air proposed bet of $10k with Mr Perry (that no inconsistencies could be proved in relation to his voting record) was rather crass, but not fatal. Moreover, in other jurisdictions like Greece and Italy you can currently see countries entrusting their future to reliable technocrats rather than traditional charismatic populist leaders. So maybe, if nominated, Romney’s brand of quiet professionalism will give him the edge in a negotiation for the voters’ trust…unless Obama can tilt the balance of “reassurance” back in his favour in the run-up to the election…

UPDATE (20/12/11)… And now another Republican seems to be rising up the polling ranks in the Republican nomination race. Ron Paul is 76 and the archetypal angry oldman. He seems to oppose everything from the Federal Reserve, and the United Nations to wearing a seatbelt. Unlikely to provide the “reassurance” required to negotiate his way to the nomination with the elctorate. But an interesting “protest” candidate nonetheless. When peoplefeel they can’t get what they want from a deal they sometimes play “lose/lose”, feeling that they might as well be destructive of theprocess. Ron Paul would be a fairly destructive choice who may appeal to some voters who feel that the present array of Republican candidates is never going to meet their need for reassurance…