How Rational Is Your Vote?

Ask a real partisan—someone with a Ron Paul or Ed Martin sticker on his car–why he supports that candidate.  You’ll get a lot of rational reasons.

Then challenge just one of those reasons, and what do you get?  More reason?

No,  you get raw emotions.


That’s because the emotional mind—the part of the brain designed for survival—exerts far more influence over our thinking that most people are willing to admit. The conscious mind, operating at about 40-50 bits per second, is overwhelmed by the subconscious mind with its 10-40 million bits per second power.*

And our drive to defend our choices evokes a lot of emotion. 

What’s more frightening is the amount of subconscious work goes into picking our candidate in the first place.

In a famous study at Princeton, Alex Todorov flashed images of men’s faces before students, sometimes as briefly as 1/10th of a second.  Next, the students scored the faces on likability and on competence.

The faces were of political candidates from a variety of races, but the students didn’t know that. The politicians were of mixed ideologies and parties and from many parts of the country.

When Todorov compared the students’ assessments—based on nothing but a flashed image of the candidates—to actual election results, the students’ raw emotions picked the winner 70 percent of the time.

The power of physical attributes is even more dominant among less informed voters and those who watch a lot of television. 

[T]he effect of facial competence on voting is about three times larger for information-poor and TV-prone voters than for others who are better informed and watch less television.

Kahneman, Daniel (2011-10-25). Thinking, Fast and Slow (p. 91). Macmillan. Kindle Edition. (Link to Book)

Candidates owe their constituents rational justifications for their votes.  And the soundness of a candidate’s plan helps solidify his supporters’ emotional commitment.

But candidates—and their partisans—who expect to win solely on the weight of rational argument hold an irrational and anti-scientific position. To win, you must earn the emotional commitment of people, not just make a rational case.

I’ll discuss how to win the emotional battle at the 3rd Anniversary Tea Party, February 25.  It’s valuable information for candidates, staffers, and volunteers, and you can get your tickets now.

* It’s not quite that simple, but it’s close. The conscious mind includes executive functioning which decides what we focus on. The subconscious responds to the object of that focus—but it does so in its own peculiar way.


4 thoughts on “How Rational Is Your Vote?”

  1. Pingback:
  2. And that boys and girls is why there will be no Conservative government in this country until we have lost everything and there is no other way.

    1. Call me a cockeyed optimist. I wouldn’t have invested so much time and treasure over the last 3+ years if I thought we’d have to destroy the village in order to save.

      I certainly understand pessimism–it creeps into my mind all the time. But so does hope.

      No one is really applying everything we know about behavior. Not completely. Political application of brain science lags. The necessity of the pursuit of happiness alone is a topic that, if understood, could tip the scales.

      Finally, about 60 percent of voters still call themselves conservative on the Battleground Poll (hasn’t changed since early 80s). Some of them don’t know what that means, exactly, but if we activate them all, we can some amazing things..

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