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The Political Brain The Role Of Emotion In Deciding The Fate Of The Nation [Paperback]

Drew Westen
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
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Book Description

3 May 2008
Hailed by The Guardian as "essential reading from Washington to Westminster" this is a groundbreaking study of how the mind works, and what this means for why candidates win and lose elections. Since the 18th century, the idea of mind that has captured the imagination of philosophers, cognitive scientists, economists and political scientists is of a dispassionate mind that makes decisions by weighing evidence and reasoning to make the most valid conclusions. It bears no relation to how the mind and brain actually work. In this landmark book, Professor Drew Westen a scientist and psychologist who has led a pioneering investigation into how the brain processes political information shows through a whirlwind tour of American political leaders how electorates vote not with their heads, but with their hearts. He finds that Americans are a nation of passionate voters, not cool political spectators they love (or hate) Bill Clinton and George W Bush. No-one else will do. The book, which examines data across several Presidential elections from the 1950s to the present day, is a serious and groundbreaking investigation into the role of emotion in driving voting behaviour. This new paperback edition includes a new chapter on the run-up to the 2008 US elections.

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"The most interesting, informative book on politics I've read in many years" Bill Clinton "May prove to be one of the most important studies of political campaigning of recent times." Jonathan Freedland in The Guardian"

About the Author

Drew Westen received his B.A. at Harvard, an M.A. in Social and Political Thought at the University of Sussex (England), and his Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology at the University of Michigan, where he subsequently taught for six years. For several years he was Chief Psychologist at Cambridge Hospital and Associate Professor at Harvard Medical School. He is a commentator on NPR's "All Things Considered" and lives in Atlanta.

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22 of 22 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
The book is written by a Democrat party strategist and qualified experimental psychologist, who believes that style often wins over substance in political campaigns. The central claim of the book is that voters react more to emotional appeals and rousing speeches than they do to reason, logic and statistics. The author argues that even if a candidate is superior in logic and reason, he will still lose if he faces a charismatic opponent who knows how to work an audience and make powerful emotional appeals.

One useful feature of the book is how the author provides transcripts of US Presidential debates, and pin points the moment at which the debate "turned", usually as the result of a witty put down, or rousing response. He then suggests how this could have been counter attacked by the candidate, providing examples that are truly fiendish in their ability to have trounced the opponent had they been employed by the actual candidate. He also deconstructs famous TV commercials and party political broadcasts and shows the psychological and emotional persuasion that was being employed, often subliminally.

The author also describes how certain emotional appeals will be more effective in some demographic populations than others, and suggests how a candidate can often win in areas his party would not be expected to do well in by adopting a message that plays on the emotions and passions of the target voters, thus by passing their usual psychological defences against a party/candidate they may have a reflexive initial dislike of.

The book does have one or two weaknesses.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
Why did George Bush's message resonate better than Al Gore's and John Kerry's, even when Bush was totally wrong on the facts? The Political Brain will make that clear to you.

Professor Drew Westen is a political psychologist at Emory University and draws on psychology to explain the way voters form decisions about candidates during campaigns. For those who favor the policy wonk approach that is so appealing in debates at the Kennedy School of Government on PBS, this book will be quite an unpleasant surprise. Positions on issues sway voters about 2 percent of the time.

What does work? According to the research cited by Professor Westen, it's pretty simple:

Voters usually ask four questions to pick a candidate to back:

1. How do I feel about the candidate's party and its principles? (The Democrats are in trouble here because their positions are usually portrayed without the context of timeless principles.)

2. How does this candidate make me feel? (How did Al Gore and John Kerry make you feel? Many people would have answered, "Bored.")

3. How do I feel about this candidate's personal characteristics, particularly his or her integrity, leadership, and compassion? (John Kerry's unwillingness to defend himself against Bush's unwarranted attacks made Kerry seem like a person with something to hide who wouldn't be a good leader.)

4. How do I feel about this candidate's stands on issues that matter to me? (Common sense answers built around every day stories work well. References to House and Senate bills don't.)

If you think this point of view is oversimplified, you should read the book. The research is quite impressive in supporting these conclusions.

Will any Democrat follow this advice? Probably not.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Westen has made a name for himself 16 Feb 2010
To his credit Drew Westen has written a top notch book on the art of politics. The book has catapulted him into the realm of TV pundit, and just weeks after I finished "The Political Brain" I suddenly get to see Drew Westen spew his opinions on CNN and MSNBC.

"The Political Brain" is a manifesto for Democrats across the United States. It is a call to arms. His straightforward, common sense approach to attacking republicans on areas where they are weak, abortion issues, gun rights, and every other "social" issue that they have usurped, is the core of this book.

All Democratic candidates everywhere must read this book, and begin to change the terms of the debate and start putting Republicans on the defensive and ask them tough questions about their dogmatic views.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Enlightening 22 Oct 2008
I'll never see a political advert in the same light again; Professor Westen uses his experience in the field of clinical psychology to dissect how the campaign ad and the political speech affects the average Jane Winebox. Westen makes some important points relating to how elections can be won or lost on the language used in and delivery of these two mediums.

It's a compelling read, and a crucial one at that - given the impending US elections. Even if you're not usually one for political non-fiction, I would recommend you give this book a go.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Like it or not, we're all a bit irrational 19 Jun 2011
By Heather
If politicians really mean it when they say they want more people to engage with politics and turn out to vote, then they should pay attention to what Drew Westen says in this book.

The central premise of Political Brain is that the emotional networks of the human brain evolved long before our capacity to reason - and because of this, all the big decisions we make are essentially based on our emotions. We then rationalise our (unconscious) emotional decisions with our conscious intellect, and imagine that our behaviour is based on reason.

Westen tells how neuroscientific research has shown that the more purely rational an appeal by a politician, the less likely it is to activate the emotional parts of the brain that decide how, or whether, people vote. And he pokes a bit of fun at policy wonks who focus solely on "facts, figures and policy statements" on which they insist because of "an irrational emotional commitment to rationality".

A passionate democrat, Westen offers this book as a diagnosis for his party's failure in so many elections, with solutions, pre-Obama, for getting his party back on its feet.

But anyone whose job is to persuade, whether in a political or commercial field, can learn from his insights. Westen says the most effective speeches and campaign ads combine emotion and cognition, in a very specific sequence - to summarise crudely, you need a sort of sandwich of reason set between thick slices of emotionally compelling intro and conclusion. And he wants to see democrats using emotionally rich stories to illustrate what they stand for, rather than barren "laundry lists" of policies. He provides brilliant analyses and comparisons of different campaigns that hammer home his points.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
This was bought as a gift for a friend who is a candidate for a local election. He found it covered the points in which he was interested and had a host of other information which... Read more
Published 10 months ago by KAY
4.0 out of 5 stars chatty and blatantly democrat, wrong on economics, but still...
author is a psychologist, slightly histrionic in temper and an unyielding democrat to boot.
his thesis: when there is an election, democrats approach it as a job interview,... Read more
Published on 28 Jun 2011 by sanyata
4.0 out of 5 stars The Political Brain by Drew Westen
I was given this book as a gift recently and upon reading the first few pages I was hooked.

The author, Professor Drew Westen, is a clinical psychologist and... Read more
Published on 11 Jun 2011 by
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent analysis
Really provided some answers to the hard questions that previous national Democrats could not seem to comprehend.

Excellent read.
Published on 11 Jan 2011 by C Bourne
3.0 out of 5 stars an important book , if you can keep awake
This book was well recommended, and I am sure is a very important book for the future of campaigning however it just didn't hold my attention despite trying to read it a few times. Read more
Published on 27 Dec 2010 by L. northover
5.0 out of 5 stars Simply brilliant
This is a truly outstanding book, packed full of profound wisdom combined with humour. I am not easily prone to award lavish praise but I have no hesitation in saying that it will... Read more
Published on 29 Nov 2010 by Frederick M. Toates
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