Red, Gray & Blue


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Publication: Freedom - Orange County Register; Date:2010 Feb. 22; Section:Local; Page

Number: Local 2


A look into voters’ irrational minds

A local expert details the many ways emotion overrides people’s logic when it comes

to politics.

Some grim truths of our democratic system were detailed by Judith Lewis at the Fashion

Island Coco’s on Friday. And the chief culprit, for a change, wasn’t the politician, the consultant,

the lobbyist or the special interest.

It was the voter.

Lewis, past president of the Orange Coast League of Women Voters, is an expert on how

people think about politics. She cited 22 books to back up her hourlong presentation to the

Orange Coast group. While her talk was spiced with her good humor, the conclusions were not

so funny.

"If you believe in the rational voter … you’ll be dead wrong," she told a lunch crowd of about


In a nutshell, human emotion overrides logic, and voters aren’t immune to the phenomenon.

Indeed, opinions stem from the emotional part of the brain.

"You have opinions on things you haven’t even really

thought about," she said.

We instinctively tend to favor our own ethnicity, our own nation, our own church, our own

political party. And we tend to turn to others for help in arriving at "truths" – particularly

parents, friends and our preferred media sources.

Anecdotal stories tend to stick with us more deeply than statistics, even if they’re misleading

or erroneous. And out of this often irrational hodgepodge of influences, we decide what we’re

certain of.

"Certainty is an emotion," Lewis said. "It doesn’t come out of rational thought. You have a

feeling of certainty, and then you find the facts that support that feeling."

When we encounter information that conflicts with our political beliefs, "we consider it biased

or foolish – unless we stop to think about why we believe what we believe."

Regularly stopping to reassess why we believe certain things, and regularly pursuing facts in

which we can logically update our perception of the changing world is the recommended

antidote. Think the majority of people will do so? I have a feeling not.


Lewis spoke of "reciprocal altruism" – when people do things for us, we tend to want to return

the favor.

"Those judges and officials who say those contributions have nothing to do with their

decisions? They’re deluding themselves."

Indeed, she cited one expert saying we’re not conscious of 95 percent of our thoughts. She

quoted another expert, George Lakoff, who wrote in his book, "Moral Politics," of how people

use family as a metaphor for government.

Conservatives identify with the strict-father style of government, while liberals favor the

nurturing parent-approach, he wrote.

Lewis also touched on political campaigns and how they exploit voters’ irrational tendencies

with the same tricks as product advertisers. She made particular note of Republican consultant

and language magician Frank Luntz, who transformed "oil drilling" into the more attractive

"energy exploration," the reasonable "inheritance tax" into the menacing "death tax," and the

alarming "global warming" into the more tranquil "climate change."

Lewis plans to put her presentation on her blog,




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