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June 5th, 2008
09:00 AM ET

Your brain on politics

Randi Kaye
AC360° Correspondent

If only there had been more tears, and fewer promises, including 10-point plans to fix this or that.

One expert says that might have made the difference and saved Hillary Clinton’s campaign. How so? That’s what we wanted to know.

So I went to Atlanta to meet personally with Dr. Drew Westen. He’s an Emory University psychologist and author of the book, “The Political Brain.” He told me, even though we may not realize it, we vote with our gut. We say we want policy but we respond to emotion.

Apparently, Republicans like Ronald Reagan figured that out decades ago. Democrats are just catching on.

Here’s how Westen explains it:
When voters listen to candidates, the region of the brain that handles emotion is more engaged than the area that controls logic. We have a little almond-shaped nugget in our brain called the amygdala, and when it's aroused, reason takes a back seat.

We took it one step further and asked Westen to analyze two campaign holiday ads. Hillary Clinton’s was more policy-driven and Barack Obama’s was more personal. She was laying out her plans and he was sitting by the fire with his family.

Westen called Clinton’s ad “the worst political ad he’s ever seen.” Why? He told me, “Hillary's was all about, 'let me give you my bag of policies, and all the programs I want to inundate you with.' Obama's in contrast says, 'I'm a warm loving guy who cares about my family, I'm just like you.' It's impossible to watch that ad and not have a broad smile on your face.”

We gathered a group of eight undecided voters and played the same ads for them. They all responded much more positively to Obama’s ad which never mentioned a single plan or policy.

We also showed them John McCain’s ad about his experience as a prisoner of war. It was very emotional and the voters told us they were “touched.” But when we showed them another clip of McCain talking Iraq policy, they all lost interest.

One voter told me, “I'm not going to listen to it if it's dry, impassioned, there's not emotion.”

Westen says the most successful candidates have mastered combining policy and emotion. One viewer we interviewed agreed. He said, “I think we need both at this point in time, someone who can articulate a vision, and we need someone to inspire us, to lead us, in these difficult times.”

So when you go into the voting booth come November, do you think you’re going to be voting with your heart or your head?

Keep in mind, when the heart and the head are in conflict, I’m told the heart wins out.

Good to know when you’re picking a President…

Editor's Note: See Randi’s full report on AC360 at 10PM tonight.


Filed under: Barack Obama • Hillary Clinton • John McCain • Randi Kaye • Raw Politics
soundoff (44 Responses)
  1. Vimal

    I think that psychiatrist needs to have her head examined. Obama won not because he used some words stimulating a certain section of the brain, because some 90+% African Americans voted to make history. White women also voted for Hilary en bloc but at much lower %. One could say that Bill out spoke in S. Carolina, but at that stage it was obvious that Obama had a chance, and naturally people wanted to make history. No one can blame them for they were treated very badly until recently. Their feelings can be understood clearly by the comments from Secretary Rice who said something along the lines ' We the people are beginning to feel as people or similar'. I am also surprised at her comment for what ever reason we criticize President Bush, he appointed two African Americans as Secretary of State in his administration a very commendable act. Here I believe he nominated the best americans he knew for the job.

    June 7, 2008 at 2:03 am |
  2. ERASMI MELKIORY

    Thanks for portraying how politicians play with our emotions. Well, I heard one argument that all of us are prey to these tactics and that unless that part of your brain dealing with emotion is demaged you will be a victim.
    No. All will depend on your mindset and regardless of the level of knowledge in these tactics, not all of us can be victims.
    I think Americans are educated enough to sort propaganda from truth. If these tactics can succeed in USA as we seem to agree I myself who is from the Third World pity my fellow countrymen where education is low, democracy is trumpled upon and the media is controlled by the state.
    Americans should be educated on these dirty tactics as they are the ones who elect the most powerful person on earth.
    I would urge my fellow bloggers to read 'Straight and Crooked Thinking' a book by Robert Thouless to avoid being prey to emotion hunters.

    June 7, 2008 at 1:28 am |
  3. LAVON K HUMMEL

    Hey, Cindy LOL, You have put out a burning question of mine. Why your post never made much sense to me. You answerd it thankyou for telling me your brain is fried, that explain alot. Whatever I need to shop till i drop.

    June 7, 2008 at 1:11 am |
  4. Bill

    How can average Americans begin a national revolt to get the self centered politicians to start taking steps to stop with thier pork projects, stop spending money we don’t have and bring this country back to being the America we remember?

    June 6, 2008 at 1:49 am |
  5. Hampson Archer

    Personally my opinion is that sen. Obama shouldnt pick clinton as his VP because someone may want to put a hit on his head so she can become president do to her indire want to become president of our country

    June 5, 2008 at 11:25 pm |
  6. David

    All I have to say- Hillary 2012! Enough said

    June 5, 2008 at 10:39 pm |
  7. Pamela burgess

    I totally agree with cassie's comments. She was right on... What was in Cnn said about Obamas people being upset if the superdelegates
    decided the election. Funny, what about the clinton supporters being upset with the superdelegates deciding in favor of Obama. Go all the way to the convention Hillary. Beautifuly speech. I can see how you have grown from the people you met along the way. Obama has not.
    I'm sorry Hillary no matter what they insist you do to help Obama to the white house, I can't. He is not qualified. You are. Go to the convention with you delegates.. Who knows. Plus it was done before, check you history...
    Va. woman for hope for our future.

    June 5, 2008 at 8:49 pm |
  8. c

    At first I thought they would make a good team but now I have changed my mind. I dont think Obama should pick Clinton as V.P. I didn't like how she lied or "embellished" her stories. It shows her character and of decisions she made that were leaked to the media about NAFTA and also voting YES to go to War with IRAQ made me view her differently. I dont know who he should choose as V.P but I just dont think it should be Hilary

    June 5, 2008 at 7:03 pm |
  9. Larry

    Well, if you want lower gas prices move to Obama's pal Hugo Chavez' Venezuela where gas is $0.12 a gallon.

    June 5, 2008 at 6:09 pm |
  10. Jan from Wood Dale IL

    Just curious, do you think we'll ever learn the name of the 23 members of Congress who joined Charlie Rangel in that conference call to Senator Clinton, telling her they wanted her to get out sooner than later? Just curious, how many of them were from the Congressional Black Caucus like Charlie Rangel?

    June 5, 2008 at 6:05 pm |
  11. carmen

    Hi Randi:

    What ruined Hillary's campaign was that she let the likes of Bill Clinton, James Carville and Lanny Davis be her front men. All these men speaking for the little woman

    June 5, 2008 at 5:22 pm |
  12. Maritza

    Here's a quick assesment of you brain on politics ..Left liberals= Narrow Minded, unrealistic thought process, half sized partially damaged brain, too much grey matter , gross absence of neurotransmitters , irrational decision making , due to all of the above. In short , Left liberals elect politicians that have 0 experience, dubious and dangerous associations, radical racist clergy giving them advice, arrogance way off the chart, elitist that looks down (in secret) on all of the brain washed voters that voted for him. Sad but true .

    Maritza

    June 5, 2008 at 5:19 pm |
  13. Sharon from Indy

    Randi:
    Living in America is very emotional. With skyrocketing gas prices, hundreds of thousands in home foreclosures and health care coverage in the "pits", you bet, people are going to vote with their heart.

    When facing $3.50 per gallon for milk, watching another house in the neighborhood grow mammoth grass and weeds because of foreclosure or abandonment, and participating in a fundraiser for a student who had a stroke during graduation because her parents could not afford quality health insurance, YES, AGAIN, this is emotional!

    Forget the cable, forget the Hummer, forget the steaks on the BBQ, and try looking to the needs of your neighbors. The economy crisis may touch home sooner than you think.

    June 5, 2008 at 5:18 pm |
  14. Spencer

    If I were Hillary I would endorse Obama and still take it to the convention...Who cares what the biased news media think...I think you are all a bunch of jerks, for the way you have and are treating Hillary..

    June 5, 2008 at 4:23 pm |
  15. ELROY LAMKIN

    I've been watcking the race with Hillary and Barack, History is being made in frint of our eyes and a change is at hand .
    But what I'm sceard abiut is an attempt on Barack's life even Hillary said that it is over do, do you think some would be crazzy enough to do it.
    every 20 yr. an attempt is made on a president is this true.

    June 5, 2008 at 4:22 pm |
  16. Beth

    Very interesting perspective.

    I'll confess to being emotionally swayed by Obama's speeches. That is what initially drew me in as a supporter–what has kept me here is that I have found a lot of substance behind the inspiring speeches. Now that we have turned the corner and are entering the Obama vs. McCain phase of this election I hope the media will give more attention to the issues and the record Obama has on making positive changes. He has some great literature on his website about his position on various issues, his plans for solving the problems and record of accomplishments he has already made toward making things better in those areas. Check it out!

    June 5, 2008 at 3:47 pm |
  17. Larry

    Obama tied her too much t McCain; eg: gas tax holiday voting to go to war with Iraq. Obama wasn't a senator then so he could not vote either way; unlike Kerry & Edwards who voted the same as Clinton though you'd thinkshe was the only demcrat who did.

    June 5, 2008 at 3:35 pm |
  18. JC- Los Angeles

    We have become an instant gratification society; couple this with endless leaders who have let us all down and you get a general population that just wants something to believe in; whether it's a social networking site or listening to a politician, people today are less concerened with the truth and more concerened with someone telling them what they want to hear so they can feel slightly better about their miserable existence. Barack Obama has been extremely adept at tapping into the disenfranchised. After leaders like Bush, Greenspan, Mozillo, O'Neil, Prince, Ebbers, Lay and Rigas, people just want hope and thus think with emotion. If people thought with their heads, would they really back a candidate with no tangible experience, no military experience, no foreign policy experience, questionable friends and racist spiritual advisors?

    June 5, 2008 at 3:31 pm |
  19. Brian from Granada Hills, CA

    I vote with my gut:

    Obama = HIGH TAXES & BIGGER GOV'T & LESS SECURITY & NIGHTMARE FOR BUSINESS

    McCain=LOWER TAXES & LESS GOV'T & MORE SECURITY & HOPE FOR BUSINESS

    My gut says vote McCain!!!

    June 5, 2008 at 3:27 pm |
  20. Jan from Wood Dale IL

    Then I guess all of those who have become emotionally invested in the Clinton campaign would not just "jump ship" to Obama because he supports the same policy issues. Better tell your political experts to watch this segment.

    June 5, 2008 at 3:20 pm |
  21. Mike, Syracuse, NY

    Tom Willis, I'd love to see an Obama/Caroline Kennedy ticket. With so much inexperience in one place, anyone with a working brain will vote for McCain.

    June 5, 2008 at 3:15 pm |
  22. Bill

    Unfortunately, it looks like the only way that Hillary could be considered for the VP position would be if she divorced Bill. He's a weight around her neck and a platform for her to stand on. She's got pressure from above and below as a result of him. Bill has many outstanding qualities, as we all know, but because of him she's perceived as being boxed in.

    June 5, 2008 at 2:45 pm |
  23. Frank Malone

    Luckily for all of us, the basic fundamentals of life are formed while still in the childhood stage. Things in life such as deciding which political party to support can be tracked back to the childhood experience that they somehow seem to equate too.
    For example, playing on an underdog sports team at school against a much richer school with a much more talented team can be the memory of someone who is supporting a losing political candidate in the later adult years.
    In the current presidential race, the Democrats have a pair if candidates that both have an equally good chance at finally making it to the seat of America's power in the Oval office. Their lonesome Republican candiddate has had to fenrd off the ludicroys charge that his presidecy would be the same as an extended one for the present incumbent. Luckily, that is not true. The phrase "Boots on the ground has become very fashionable to use, but his boots were on an area of turmoil for three years when he was interned at a North Vietnamese Prison camp. As yet, he does not have a "runnung mate" but if he were to be able to somehow convince Al Gore to seek office with him that could be the ticket that actually wins the upcoming election. Gore has got great experience at winning elsctions, as his unacknowledged victory over the present incumbent nearly eight years ago clearly shows.

    June 5, 2008 at 2:21 pm |
  24. Teresa, Kent, OH

    I totally agree with Dr. Westen. I think EMOTION is how Mr. Obama has gotten so far. He is a nice guy sitting by the fire with his family, but I am TERRIFIED of what he would do under threat of invasion or worse.... I dont want him sitting fireside with countries who HATE US and want to see our demise.

    Why I like Hillary is she seemed so no-nonsense and business-like. I appreciated that. I have enough of a brain to know that everyone has feelings, even Hillary, but she was tough enough to keep them under wraps when the going got tough. Obama appears weak to me.

    I think so many people voted for Obama for the wrong reason, but perhaps in THEIR minds, it was the RIGHT reason. Perhaps, emotioanlly they had had it with the white man and his destructive ways? I'm wondering again: how many first time African American voters there were during all these primaries?

    June 5, 2008 at 1:54 pm |
  25. Alex

    Well I'm going to go out on a limb on this one in a day and age of Political Correctness. Perhaps Hillary Clinton is too polarizing a person to become the first FEMALE President. One of the things that surprised and shocked me during this primary, was the number of women, including my wife, who said they'd never vote for Hillary. I expected most females to jump on the bandwagon as I personally thought she was far brighter than some of her male counterparts, regardless of party affiliation. It's apparent people want change and thirst for it so badly that they'd be willing to take a shot at a relative newcomer to the political scene in Washington or even the oldest candidate to ever run for the office. Maybe I'm barking up the wrong tree, but I'm left wondering if America is ready to elect a female as it's leader. But I gladly admit the other issue of race is FINALLY falling by the wayside.

    June 5, 2008 at 1:48 pm |
  26. Lilibeth

    What you said is true, Randi. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if BOTH our head and heart agree on who’s best to lead this country?

    This reminds me of one of John Maxwell’s laws in his book, "The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership"...the Law of Connection. The law says no matter how brilliant you are, if you can’t connect with the people you’re leading, you can’t be an effective leader. I’ve always thought that the person best in doing this is Bill Clinton. He had sound policies and an amazing ability to connect with people. Look how successful he was.

    So I can see that between the heart and the head, the heart wins out, because when you can connect with someone who makes you feel warm and fuzzy inside, you connect with your heart.

    But having said all that, I supported Hillary and I’m probably in the minority in saying that my head rules everything, including my heart, in my vote, because in the end, I want someone who can successfully turn this country around. The best way to do this is to have sound policies, sensible plans, and practical solutions. Sounds boring, but that’s just me.

    Thanks, Randi. I look forward to your report.

    Lilibeth
    Edmonds, Washington

    June 5, 2008 at 12:55 pm |
  27. Janna

    Obama and Clinton were so close on issues that people had no choice but vote with their heart. Personally, I'm looking forward to hearing more details and less ideals in the coming months for the general election.

    June 5, 2008 at 12:54 pm |
  28. Stacy

    If this is the case, why did about half the country vote for John Kerry, who is almost comically dry and boring?

    June 5, 2008 at 12:40 pm |
  29. cassie

    Hi Randi,

    Yes, the world did watch this race with much interest. The interest for most women but apparently not that for the female contributors at CNN, was how fairly a woman who without a doubt qualified more than her opponent for the position, would be treated. She was treated shamelessly. She was abused on the blogs by Obama supporters, she was "manhandled" by the media and even the supposed "good" guys like Anderson could not hide their glee on the night of June 3rd.
    How dare she give such a speech? How dare she take away the thunder from the golden one? It was horrendously cruel. The race was very, very close.

    The only ones who felt warm and fuzzy from Obama's ads. were the superdelegates apparently, since they were the ones who determined the race. By not pointing this out clearly, much respect has been lost for the contributors and reporters at CNN. I understand that there are rules in journalism. Many were not adhered to at the same time the Clinton supporters were being advised to adhere to rules. The consensus seems to be that all the Clinton supporters are stupid and not warm and fuzzy. Even though throughout the race it could be determined that reporters like Suzanne Mulveaux and the superdelegate Donna Brazile who held firm that they were uncommitted,were firmly in Obama's camp. They were unbelievably hostile to Sen. Clinton. on the night of June 3rd. Jeffrey Toobin was disgusting.

    So, your article then and your expert on advertising just seems to me to try and justify the sexism that inundated this campaign.The women of the world and I hope the women of the U.S. are simply disgusted.

    We applaud you Hillary Clinton for her efforts. We have learnt. We have learnt. If you could not make it then who? God bless you.

    When people show you who they are, believe them the first time. This too shall pass.

    June 5, 2008 at 12:17 pm |
  30. Tom Wills

    Caroline Kennedy is the perfect running mate for Obama. She is a woman, she is white, she appeals to the same people as supported Hillary Clinton, she is well educated, she is not part of the Washington clique and ther is much sympathy for the Kennedys right now.

    June 5, 2008 at 12:03 pm |
  31. Raphael Alverio

    Perhaps responding to emotion is what has taken this country to where it is. Nine trillion dollars in debt, a war in Iraq that had nothing to do with 9/11, a bad economy, etc. The people is desperate and willing to vote for anyone that has persuasive rhetoric with false promises that may never be realized. The candidate that is more emotional with emptiness in words may be the winner. The voters could care less about the candidate's experience, and knowledge. The voters will lean on a sympathiser that will say what they want to hear. Their emotion becomes unreal.

    Dr. Alverio

    June 5, 2008 at 12:02 pm |
  32. Michael, NC

    I have known this for quite some time now. I had two REALLY hot professors last semester, and no matter what the topic was, I could NOT stop the stupor I constantly found myself in to listen to the information being relayed. It is instinctual and if you are unaware of it, there is nothing you can do but follow your heart. I did that a LOT, and lucky for me, got on their good side to boost my grades. 🙂

    June 5, 2008 at 11:57 am |
  33. Rupa

    Hi Randi, I really enjoy your reporting, you always bring something interesting to the table. I truly appreciate the way you do the research and the level of thinking you put in all your endeavours.

    Coming to this topic, I think people not only responded to teh emotion level but Barak Obama's brilliance, his simplicity and honesty, whish truly are great leadership qualities.

    To go to war with Iraq, and then having no exit strategy were the greatest mistakes America commited ever. I think we as a nation need to heal and repent and hope Barack Obama can lead us to that path.

    June 5, 2008 at 11:57 am |
  34. Betty Ann, Nacogdoches,TX

    Hi Randi~
    My brain is also fried, with politics too!
    Seriously, as a democrat (usually) I believe they are their own worst enemy. Don't the dems look stupid with all this delegate and superdelegate fiasco. I am not making fun of them as I was a delegate in my own county here in TX and GEEZ~ talk about a mess!
    There is way too much room for error and manipulation.
    Speaking of which, we need to do away with the electoral votes too!
    We wil never be a free speech country or democracy if we don't listen to the people.
    Counting the popular votes is the ONLY fair way.
    I like Obama but he was NOT elected by the people.
    Bush was not either. As an American, I find that infuriating.
    Really, we have no voice. SAD 😦
    Thanks for the blog Randi!

    June 5, 2008 at 11:24 am |
  35. Allie in Seattle

    Obama appeals to "the better angels of our nature." Head, heart , and spirt converge in our support of him. Vote Obama!

    June 5, 2008 at 11:05 am |
  36. Christine

    I don't vote because something might make me feel all warm and fuzzy. I voted for Senator Clinton because I liked her attitude and her passion for the issues. I don't need an actor like Obama, who comes off as a person who wants to be liked, as president. So now my vote will go to McCain. I don't care how a person delivers a speech.

    To Deborah, they want him to pick Hillary because her supporters feel like the Democratic party doesn't care about them. I really don't want her on his ticket because when he crashes and burns I don't want the fall out to hit her too. Bill Clinton did more for blacks than Obama ever will. You should be ashamed, and blacks have said all along they only voted for him because he is black. Read the papers and listen to the talking heads its all over.

    June 5, 2008 at 10:59 am |
  37. Larry

    Sounds repetitive of the Kennedy-Nixon debates where tv viewers said Kennedy did better, while radio listeners said Nixon did better.

    June 5, 2008 at 10:46 am |
  38. Mimi

    My opinion is that Americans need to vote about their pockets and the future of their families. Look at America now.... A honest look... We are in a recession, gas prices is up, we are engaging in a just war and futhermore people is getting laid off, no healthcare and jobs are shipped out of America.

    We have to accept what happen in life such as failure and losses. It is time to move on" pick up the pieces and move forward. Everyone gets hurt and everyone has pain, that is a part of life. Do not allow anger to consume you, later you will regret it.

    It is time to let go.... You will feel better and vote with your brains and your pocket. Humble yourself and make the right choice for your future.

    June 5, 2008 at 10:38 am |
  39. angie

    i think you should vote depending on your needs and your wants as well as your families whatever is going on in your life and vote on the canidate and their views on what you think is gonna better you and your families lives i think it all comes down to your every day struggles and who you think can help and make a difference as well as how you want to see your country go foward

    June 5, 2008 at 10:19 am |
  40. Deborah Singleton

    Why is it that all we hear about is white women, John McCain can pick who he wants for VP and has not yet done that.
    As soon as you get a black man you now want to control who he picks for vp and make him pick right away
    Well let me tell you all of us black women are not happy about how this has played out and no we are not voteing for him because he is black I have never voted for Jessie or AL for president and would have vote for Hillary if not for her husband
    Would you guys be forcing clinton to take the black guy for vp

    June 5, 2008 at 10:06 am |
  41. bobbi

    If this is the case, Hillary is too robotic to ever win this way.

    June 5, 2008 at 9:50 am |
  42. Cindy

    My brain on politics is fried!! Because we have been given WAY too much of it! LOL

    Yeah some people may go with their gut and their feelings on who to vote for but not all of us. I would hope that more go by the issues and who is better qualified to deal with them and get this country back on track.

    Just because something makes you feel good doesn't always mean that is the best thing for you.

    Cindy..Ga.

    June 5, 2008 at 9:45 am |
  43. José E. Muratti

    A great deal of time is spent every day micro-reporting on every comment, omission and nuance in each of the presumptive candidates and Sen. Clinton, and their supporters or nay sayers. However, possibly more than in any other U.S. election since JFK, has the rest of the world been more interested in this outcome. A significant factor is the fact that Sen. Obama, as an African-American may have a shot at the Presidency. However, as with Vietnam, there is a generalized perception that the U.S. foreign policy and military interventions in Iraq represent a threat to peace in the middle east with a ripple effect well beyond that region. Mr. Cooper's excellent field coverage of other topics will surely facilitate his access to key figures in Europe, Asia, Africa and Latin America, regarding how Mr. Obama's Presidency may contribute to improve the U.S.'s image and relations with the rest of the world and/or if Mr. McCain's Presidency could have the opposite effect.

    June 5, 2008 at 9:31 am |
  44. Annie Kate

    Randi,

    That's an interesting concept. My head makes better decisions than my heart so I'll vote with the decision my head makes and leave my heart at home.

    Annie Kate
    Birmingham AL

    June 5, 2008 at 9:21 am |