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Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Tips for Democratic Contenders

Over the weekend I celebrated my wife's birthday with my daughter and caught up on some reading. One of the books I got a chance to delve into was The Political Brain: The Role of Emotion in Deciding the Fate of the Nation by Drew Westen.

This is an intriguing book that investigates the way the brain is influenced by political messages and what factors ultimately make one candidate more appealing than another to voters. This book is a wake up call for Democrats.

Dr. Westen's research shows that when political candidates assume voters dispassionately make decisions based on "the issues," they lose. This can explain why, since Franklin Roosevelt, only one Democratic President has won re-election only one Republican President has failed to win re-election.

Westen writes that three things determine how people vote: their feelings toward the parties and their principles, their feelings toward the candidates, and, if they haven't decided by then, their feelings toward the candidates' policy positions. Based on this conclusion, Democrats need to focus less on making "logical" arguments on where they stand on issues as compared to their opponent and focus more on "emotional" efforts that energize their party base without fearing that they will appear "too left" or "too right".

Lets hope our Democratic candidates have this on their book shelves as they gear up for election season.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


I agree that you may more effectively appeal to the greatest number of voters by recognizing the power emotions play in the voters' decisions. Of course, as an attorney, you already knew that how you present your case is key. Just don't ever forget why you accepted the case (as opposed to another) in the first place--although I know YOU won't. I just worry that in this sound bite world in which we reside other public servants might take away the message that evidence-based policy making is not important. I know that's not what you're saying. You're talking about issue framing. If you are not already familiar with it, a handy little quick-read is Fisher (co-author of "Getting to Yes") & Shapiro's "Beyond Reason: Using Emotions as You Negotiate." There are nice summaries of the book's key points here: and also here: I've taken a look at your blog and the story about your dilemma related to the timing of Francesca's birth and my *feelings* tell me that you're a principled and honorable person and Texas is lucky to have you as one of its dedicated public servants. Best wishes to you, Liz, and Francesca. Your new friend and fan, Ann

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