I was delighted to read the New York Times article about psychology professor Drew Westen‘s new book, The Political Brain: The Role of Emotion in Deciding the Fate of the Nation.
In a nutshell, Westen’s argument is that Democrats lose elections because they make the fatal mistake of trying to appeal to the electorate’s reason, rather than their emotions. Democrats present their case with facts and logic while Republicans say that something just feels wrong or right.
The contrast between the two approaches is evident in their candidates. For the past two presidential elections, the Democrats ran two wooden candidates with little emotional appeal in Al Gore and John Kerry who both nevertheless nearly won (and a lot of people believe they did win).
Both Gore and Kerry should have crushed George W. Bush, but they failed because they failed to push the electorate’s emotional buttons. The Bush camp, on the other hand, presented their candidate as an ordinary guy with whom you’d like to share a beer. The Bush camp succeeded in putting a dress on Kerry and portraying him as an effeminate wimp, eliciting an negative emotional reaction from a public scarred by 9/11. And the Bush camp pushed the emotional fear button every chance they got by raising the terrorist threat level every chance they got.
It is telling that the last Democratic president fully understood this. President Bill Clinton famously said, "I feel your pain." President Clinton, then and now, frames issues in emotional and moral terms; Republican proposals and ideas "are just plain wrong."
At the end of the day, Republicans simply understand marketing far better than do Democrats. Any student who’s taken Marketing 101 should be able to explain to you that at the end of the day, people make purchase decisions based more on emotion than on facts or logic.
It’s a point I’ve been shouting for years to any Democrat who would listen. The Democratic Party needs to seriously recruit marketers into their campaign infrastructure.