The cause of severe partisanship? Deep down we are attracted to both candidates in an election and in order to suppress this we emphasize the negative attributes of the one for whom we are not voting – like fans do with sports teams. Interesting theory:
- PRESIDENT BUSH begins his second term this week as the leader of a nation that appears to be sharply divided. Since the election, there’s been endless discussion about the growing gap between “red” and “blue” America. When former President Bill Clinton said a few months ago that he was probably the only person in America who liked both Mr. Bush and Senator John Kerry, it seemed it might be true.
Yet, surprisingly, recent neuroscience research suggests that Democrats and Republicans are not nearly as far apart as they seem. In fact, there is empirical evidence that even the fiercest partisans may instinctively like both Mr. Bush and Mr. Kerry, although they struggle against this collaborative impulse.
During the eight months before the election, I was part of a group of political professionals and scientists from the University of California, Los Angeles, who used functional magnetic resonance imaging, or f.M.R.I., to scan the brains of 10 Republicans and 10 Democrats, producing images like those seen above. We measured brain activity while subjects looked at political advertisements and at images of the presidential candidates.
….These patterns of brain activity, made visible on the f.M.R.I.’s, suggest that both Bush and Kerry voters were mentally battling their attraction to the other side. Bush voters wanted to follow Mr. Kerry; Kerry voters found appeal in Mr. Bush. Both groups fought this instinct by arguing to themselves that their impulses were wrong. By recalling flaws associated with the opposition, the voters displaced attraction with dislike. Because the process happened nearly instantaneously, only the final sense of dismay reached full awareness.
….In the case of this past election, while we witnessed an electorate that seemed irreconcilably divided, using f.M.R.I., we could see that the Republicans and Democrats we tested liked both candidates. The initial reflex toward allegiance is easy to explain: people rise through the ranks to run for higher office because they are able to evoke in others a powerful impulse to join their cause. Voters sense this attraction, and to keep from succumbing, they dredge up emotion-laden negative images as a counterweight.
This suggests that the passions swirling through elections are not driven by a deep commitment to issues. We are not fighting over the future of the country; we are fighting for our team, like Red Sox and Yankee fans arguing over which club has the better catcher. Both in an election and in baseball, all that really matters is who wears the team uniform.
….So, Democrats, admit that you admire the confidence and decisiveness of President Bush. And Republicans, concede that you would like a president to have the depth of knowledge and broad intelligence of Mr. Kerry. Now that f.M.R.I. is revealing our antagonisms as a defensive ploy, it is time to erase the red and blue divide. [NY Times]
I said many times I would like to be able to pick and choose positions and characteristics of each candidate to create my own ideal Frankenstein candidate, but barring that and once I made up my mind, I did sense the urge to demonize the other candidate in order to confirm my decision. I’m not exactly sure how to act upon this knowledge however.