Can a candidate's music choices predict who wins the election?

Song selections key in politics, marketing expert says

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SAN ANTONIO – Music can make or break a campaign, according to Dr. Stan Renard, a music marketing coordinator at the University of Texas at San Antonio.

“Music is powerful. It’s everywhere,” he said. “Can you imagine your life without music? There’s the message in the text, it helps. Pop songs are very popular.”

The Pizza + Research series at UTSA engages students in a variety of research topics over lunch. The most recent event looked at the intersection of music and politics.

“It was a work in progress. We came up with some interesting patterns,” Renard said, following his lecture. “We document what news outlets will say and we work at pulling out new data, maybe some emerging patterns that seem to work, or seem to show trends. We’re not in the business of showing proof, we only try to document.”

Renard, who hails from southern France, points out he has no bias in the campaign because he can’t vote in the United States. He studied the topic over the last year and found stark differences in the music used by Republicans versus songs used by Democrats.

One difference, he noted, is that Democrats tend to use more current songs. The average copyright for a Democratic candidate like Hillary Clinton is 2005. The average song copyright for Donald Trump’s campaign is 1982.

Renard also said Democrats use a wider selection of music and genres.

One similarity Renard found is that both Democrat and Republicans use rock most frequently, followed by country music. (Click the player above to hear Dr. Renard's thoughts on rock and country music.)

“The most popular genre of music that also incurs the most sales is rock music, so for both Democrats and Republicans, rock is No. 1. Country is second, for both,” he said.

Campaigns also steer clear of words that are nice. Renard said voters may not hear “love” or “kind” in songs chosen by campaigns.

Perhaps one main reason Trump’s campaign uses songs someone may find confusing for a campaign to use (such as R.E.M.’s “It’s the End of the World”) is because it draws a line in the sand.

For Trump, his whole candidacy has been differentiating himself from the Republican Party.

“There’s not a lot of positive wording (in the music Trump uses,)” Renard said. “At least on the Republican side, they wanted to show a break against the establishment. Those words like "stop" say let’s move on to something different.”

Renard came up with a “predictive model” that showed every election since 2004. The model demonstrates for each election how many songs the candidate played during their campaign, how many genres were represented, and the average copyright year for the song(s).

So in 2004, when Republican George W. Bush ran against Democrat John Kerry, Bush showed one song played during the campaign (repeatedly) with an average copyright year of 2001. Kerry played two songs in one genre, with an average copyright year of 1977. Bush won the election, but he also won the predictive model that’s based solely on music, Renard said, with a more recent copyright year. The predictive model had Bush winning at 50.70 percent and Kerry with 48.30 percent.

In 2008, Democrat Barack Obama played 26 songs in 10 different genres during his campaign. His opponent, Republican John McCain, played five songs in four different genres. Obama’s average copyright year for his musical selections was 1993. McCain’s was 1984. Again, the more recent average copyright year for the candidate worked out well, as Obama won the election, and the predictive model outcome based on music selection 52.90 percent to 45.70 percent.

With Obama and Romney in 2012, Obama increased his musical selections during his campaign to 41 songs in 10 genres. Romney played five songs in four genres. Obama’s average copyright year was 1997. Romney’s was 1963. The predictive model showed Obama won with 51.10 percent to Romney’s 47.20 percent. Of course, Obama won the election, too.

“Obama had an extensive list of tunes that he used throughout his campaign and did it in the form of a playlist,” Renard said.

This time, the predictive model between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump once again shows a pattern that the candidate who played more musical selections, with a more recent copyright year, calls Clinton the winner with 50.08 percent to Trump’s 49.91 percent. The model showed Clinton has played 24 songs in 11 genres. Trump has played eight songs in five genres. Clinton’s average copyright year is 2005. Trump’s is 1982.

Renard also noted that each of the predictive model’s outcomes are very close, and mirrors actual polling results in a way. Final numbers between candidates at the end of an election are also close.