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How To Cope If Your Candidate Lost

You swore your allegiance. You voted. Perhaps you even volunteered your time. But your candidate just lost. What do you do now?

Some psychologists say you can look to the coping tactics of die-hard sports fans, who generally have to deal with defeat more than once every four years.

Play the blame game: You can blame the defeat on someone or something other than your candidate, says Tufts University associate professor of psychology Sam Sommers. In sports, you can blame factors like weather, an injury, or — most often — the referees.

"You say the game is lost because the ref blew the call. That's not as threatening to your ego. It's not that your team is inferior, it's that they got cheated," Sommers says. Sometimes that works in politics, too, he says, pointing to Al Gore's defeat in the 2000 presidential election.

"The Democrats were quite upset. But at the same time there was this feeling that they didn't lose — that the election got taken from them," Sommers says. "In 2004, it looked very close coming to Election Day, and [Democrat John] Kerry lost. At some level that was more devastating to Democrats because there wasn't this righteous indignation of an external event to hang your hat on."

Share the misery: Just as we like to be with others to celebrate victory, Sommers says, we also turn to the company of others to make ourselves feel better after loss. Even after the election is over, he says, "the fact is we still have those bonds with people."

Change the narrative: Fans of the Chicago Cubs baseball team, which has gone more than a century without a World Series title, are well-practiced in this technique, says Xavier University associate professor Christian End.

"Cubs fans think, 'So what, we're going to be the biggest losers? Well, we're the most loyal. Nobody is more loyal than a Cubs fan,' " End says.

So if your candidate didn't get the most votes, you can still try to claim that he or she had the best-organized or most ethical campaign. By tailoring the standards of victory to fit the particular strengths of your team or candidate, you can always feel like a winner.

Remember, things could be worse: In sports, it works like this. Your Minnesota Vikings lost this weekend, so they're doing worse than the Green Bay Packers. But at least they're not faring as badly as the Detroit Lions.

The same thing works in politics, End explains: Perhaps your presidential candidate lost, but at least your favorite congressional candidate won.

Turn losing into winning: "I remember hearing Democrats in 2000 saying, 'Maybe this isn't a bad election to lose anyway. The economy is in a downward trajectory and things wouldn't have gone well and we can do better next time,' " Sommers says.

While this may seem an improbably good-natured attitude considering the high emotions during the election, Indiana University psychology professor Edward Hirt says it's more common than you'd think.

"It's amazing how much we convince ourselves that the world is going to end if our candidate doesn't get elected, and yet we seem remarkably resilient," Hirt says. "We move on and move forward."

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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