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Habits and the Election, Part II: Negative Campaigning

Much has been made of negative campaigning in the last few election cycles as if this is some sort of new phenomena. All one need do is look at the vitriol of the Adams/Jefferson election to realize how silly that claim truly is. Not only is negative campaigning as American as elections, but ultimately an important and necessary part of the process.

In the first part of this blog, I made the point that most voters are making a gut-level decision when they cast their vote. While we have long labored under the false idea that rational decisions are superior, recent research from the brain sciences reveal that our emotions are essential to making decisions. In addition, we know that the vast majority of communications we rely on to make decisions is non-verbal. Fast, efficient decision-making was critical to our ancestors’ survival and this mechanism guides us the same today as it did when we lived on the African veldt.

To be successfully, politicians must create a caricature of themselves to ‘sell’ to the public. This process is necessary, as the majority of the electorate will not take the time to analyze the politician’s actual position on issues. The dark side of this process is that politicians often craft facades that are in stark contrast to their real selves. Negative campaigning is necessary to provide voters with an opposing view. This assault on a politician’s crafted persona, provides voters the kind of contrasting information that works in the fast, efficient way their brain is trying to make a decision. While we may lament the ‘good’ politicians who are wrongfully smeared, we must never forget that this process may be the only way to kick the scoundrels out or keep them from gaining positions of authority in the first place.



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