Harris started with this chilling observation:
Let me confess that I was genuinely unnerved by Sarah Palin's performance at the Republican convention. Given her audience and the needs of the moment, I believe Governor Palin's speech was the most effective political communication I have ever witnessed. Here, finally, was a performer who—being maternal, wounded, righteous and sexy—could stride past the frontal cortex of every American and plant a three-inch heel directly on that limbic circuit that ceaselessly intones "God and country." If anyone could make Christian theocracy smell like apple pie, Sarah Palin could. (Click here to read more.)
However, what is probably even more disturbing is that modern neuroscience also suggests that once people choose a candidate (even if the choice is emotional) they seldom change their minds, even when confronted with negative facts about the candidate. Does that mean that women don't care about global warming or the fact that Palin is less competent to be president than I am? (At least I have a passport and have actually visited Europe!)
Robert Burton,MD who was interviewed in Episode 43 of the Brain Science Podcast has excellent blog post in Salon reviewing the neuroscience of voter behavior: http://www.salon.com/env/mind_reader/2008/09/22/voter_choice/index.html.
There are at least two excellent books available on this topic:
- The Political Brain: The Role of Emotion in Deciding the Fate of the Nation by Drew Westen
- The Political Mind: Why You Can't Understand 21st-Century American Politics with an 18th-Century Brain by George Lakoff
One point that Lakoff makes that I think resonates with Dr. Burton's book On Being Certain: Believing You Are Right Even When You're Not is that Democrats need to let go of the Enlightenment myth of the rational mind. People vote with their hearts (emotions and unconscious parts of the brain) not with their heads, which ironically can even lead them to vote against their own ideals.
As for me, when I think about Sarah Palin, my amygdala fills me with fear, disgust and dread!
Note: this last sentence seems to have provoked a lively discussion. You can join in the comments over on the Brain Science Podcast website: /brainsciencepodcast/2008/09/22/why-do-so-many-women-like-sarah-palin/#comments