Why do so many women like Sarah Palin?

I am mystified by the polls that show how popular Sarah Palin with women voters, but today I got an email from a fan of the Brain Science Podcast who pointed me to a piece by Sam Harris that may shed some light on the phenomena. Harris is a neuroscientist and he observes that when people listen to politicians like Palin what they say may bypass the frontal lobes (where logical thinking occurs) and go straight to the limbic (emotional) brain. 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:

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: http://docartemis.com/brainsciencepodcast/2008/09/22/why-do-so-many-women-like-sarah-palin/#comments

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Why I have to take a stand against Sarah Palin

I usually avoid politics in my blogs and podcasts, but I just got an email that made me realize that I have to speak out against Sarah Palin. When she was first nominated I couldn't believe that the average American woman would fall for such an obvious ploy. However, the polls show that I was wrong! The idea of having her one heart beat away from the presidency is down right frightening, and I am not particularly prone to panic. If you don't know why I am worried, please read the following essay, which I received via email:
I am having Sarah Palin nightmares. I dreamt last night that she was a member of a club where they rode snowmobiles and wore the claws of drowned and starved polar bears around their necks. I have a particular thing for Polar Bears. Maybe it's their snowy whiteness or their bigness or the fact that they live in the arctic or that I have never seen one in person or touched one. Maybe it is the fact that they live so comfortably on ice. Whatever it is, I need the polar bears. I don't like raging at women. I am a Feminist and have spent my life trying to build community, help empower women and stop violence against them. It is hard to write about Sarah Palin. This is why the Sarah Palin choice was all the more insidious and cynical. The people who made this choice count on the goodness and solidarity of Feminists. But everything Sarah Palin believes in and practices is antithetical to Feminism which for me is part of one story -- connected to saving the earth, ending racism, empowering women, giving young girls options, opening our minds, deepening tolerance, and ending violence and war. I believe that the McCain/Palin ticket is one of the most dangerous choices of my lifetime, and should this country chose those candidates the fall-out may be so great, the destruction so vast in so many areas that America may never recover. But what is equally disturbing is the impact that duo would have on the rest of the world. Unfortunately, this is not a joke. In my lifetime I have seen the clownish, the inept, the bizarre be elected to the presidency with regularity. Sarah Palin does not believe in evolution. I take this as a metaphor. In her world and the world of Fundamentalists nothing changes or gets better or evolves. She does not believe in global warming. The melting of the arctic, the storms that are destroying our cities, the pollution and rise of cancers, are all part of God's plan. She is fighting to take the polar bears off the endangered species list. The earth, in Palin's view, is here to be taken and plundered. The wolves and the bears are here to be shot and plundered. The oil is here to be taken and plundered. Iraq is here to be taken and plundered. As she said herself of the Iraqi war, "It was a task from God." Sarah Palin does not believe in abortion. She does not believe women who are raped and incested and ripped open against their will should have a right to determine whether they have their rapist's baby or not. She obviously does not believe in sex education or birth control. I imagine her daughter was practicing abstinence and we know how many babies that makes. Sarah Palin does not much believe in thinking. From what I gather she has tried to ban books from the library, has a tendency to dispense with people who think independently. She cannot tolerate an environment of ambiguity and difference. This is a woman who could and might very well be the next president of the United States. She would govern one of the most diverse populations on the earth. Sarah believes in guns. She has her own custom Austrian hunting rifle. She has been known to kill 40 caribou at a clip. She has shot hundreds of wolves from the air.
I suspect that these numbers have been exaggerated! However, I think shooting even one wolf from the air is too many. (check rumors about Sarah Palin at Snopes.com) Please see the end of this post for more links.
Sarah believes in God. That is of course her right, her private right. But when God and Guns come together in the public sector, when war is declared in God's name, when the rights of women are denied in his name, that is the end of separation of church and state and the undoing of everything America has ever tried to be. I write to my sisters. I write because I believe we hold this election in our hands. This vote is a vote that will determine the future not just of the U.S., but of the planet. It will determine whether we create policies to save the earth or make it forever uninhabitable for humans. It will determine whether we move towards dialogue and diplomacy in the world or whether we escalate violence through invasion, undermining and attack. It will determine whether we go for oil, strip mining, coal burning or invest our money in alternatives that will free us from dependency and destruction. It will determine if money gets spent on education and healthcare or whether we build more and more methods of killing. It will determine whether America is a free open tolerant society or a closed place of fear, fundamentalism and aggression. If the Polar Bears don't move you to go and do everything in your power to get Obama elected then consider the chant that filled the hall after Palin spoke at the RNC, "Drill Drill Drill." I think of teeth when I think of drills. I think of rape. I think of destruction. I think of domination. I think of military exercises that force mindless repetition, emptying the brain of analysis, doubt, ambiguity or dissent. I think of pain. Do we want a future of drilling? More holes in the ozone, in the floor of the sea, more holes in our thinking, in the trust between nations and peoples, more holes in the fabric of this precious thing we call life? Drill, Drill, Drill (from Eve Ensler's blog) posted September 8, 2008
Back in 1964 people were afraid that Barry Goldwater's extremism would lead to disaster, but now the Democrats seem unwilling to speak out against something much more dangerous. Note: the idea that Sarah Palin once shot 40 caribou with a single clip apparently comes from a satirical post of imaginary quotes. Read the details.
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