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22 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Important insights and theories applicable to all political campaigning
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...
Published on 18 Aug 2007 by M. McManus

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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. I found other peoples reviews more useful in explaining what the book is about.

i would say it is better to send a friend with lots of time on their hands off to read it, then...
Published on 27 Dec 2010 by L. northover


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22 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Important insights and theories applicable to all political campaigning, 18 Aug 2007
By 
M. McManus - See all my reviews
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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. Perhaps the biggest potential weakness for the UK reader is the fact the book deals solely with US politics, and there may be some issues that are either irrelevant and/or not of interests to British political strategists. This US bias also means that there are a few instances where he quotes events that the UK reader would not know the cultural and media background to, whereas this would be common knowledge to the US reader.

This book is a must read for political campaigners, whatever their political allegiance. It will be interesting to see if the tactics and philosophy in this book are employed during the 2008 Presidential election.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars How to Rationally and Ethically Connect with Voters Through Emotion: A U.S. Democratic Campaign Critique, 14 Aug 2007
By 
Donald Mitchell "Jesus Loves You!" (Thanks for Providing My Reviews over 124,000 Helpful Votes Globally) - See all my reviews
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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. Professor Westen describes how Democrats favor the same campaign advisors who always lose, rather than ones who give effective advice. Many Democrats are also afraid that they can't compete at this game with the Republicans. Others think you have to be sleazy, like some emotional campaigns are. Professor Westen shows that if we want to have a well-run company, it's unethical not to convey important information in ways that it can be understood and appreciated.

The most interesting parts of the book come where Professor Westen takes on the leading issues of past campaigns (abortion, gun control, race, estate taxes, compassion, character assassination, Iraq war, and gay rights) to show the effective things done (usually by Republicans) and how someone opposed to those positions could have made a better impression than by doing what was done. I'm not convinced that each of his scripts would work, but they are certainly thought provoking.

If you are a Democrat, give a copy of this book to those you know who are running for office. If you are a Republican, study how President Bush has been making mistakes since 2004 and pass along the message to those who are running.

As a side note, I think Professor Westen missed several reasons why past candidates have chosen to avoid using emotional appeals. Having watched many elected officials in Washington up close, I'm struck by how they go from being people who want to overcome wrongs into people who seem to want to belong to a club of well-dressed, wealthy statesmen. It would be embarrassing for such a gentleman or lady to appeal to ordinary people using ordinary methods of communication. I suspect the bottom line of this shift is that these politicians don't really care all that much for people outside of their own family, friends, and allies.

By comparison, I remember being at an event with my over 80 year-old father while Bill Clinton was president. Dad had just recovered from heart bypass surgery, which had been paid for by Medicare. You could tell Dad was recovering from something. Clinton plowed through quite a large crowd to shake Dad's hand, ask Dad if he was feeling all right, and then conversed about his experience with Medicare. Before leaving Dad, Clinton mentioned that one of his top priorities was protecting Medicare benefits for seniors. Now, that sounds like Clinton was campaigning. But he wasn't. He was just expressing his natural feelings towards an older man.

In one small section of the book, Professor Westen talks about the importance of picking the right candidates. I suspect that if both parties picked candidates who naturally wanted to serve others and deeply cared about everyone they met we would have better government and more effective campaigns.

This is one in a series of books I've read in recent years pointing out that Democrats are years behind Republicans in various campaign techniques. I hope that those who are running for office are reading these books. Otherwise, we'll have one-party government in the future. That's not good for anyone.

If you do buy this book, let me caution you that the copy I read had the pages misbound so that the pages from 297 through 320 follow page 272. Try to get a book that is bound in the correct order.
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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
This review is from: The Political Brain The Role Of Emotion In Deciding The Fate Of The Nation (Paperback)
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
This review is from: The Political Brain The Role Of Emotion In Deciding The Fate Of The Nation (Paperback)
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 (Welwyn Garden City, UK) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Political Brain The Role Of Emotion In Deciding The Fate Of The Nation (Paperback)
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.

Westen's arguments are utterly convincing, but I do think there's an irony in that the word 'emotion' itself sometimes has so many negative emotional associations - think 'sentimental', 'fluffy', 'unstable', 'out-of-control' - and I wonder whether it might be useful to think in terms of 'instinct', 'imagination' 'belief' or 'values' rather than emotion. Just a thought. But I think also that the weakest bit of the book is when Westen allows his own emotions to get the better of him, in the latter part, as he indulges in diatribes that would have you believe that all republicans are motivated only by self interest and evil. This sort of hectoring is as boring as a dry old policy list.

Rants aside, I think Westen is saying pretty much what the Roman orator Cicero said - that successful rhetoric must appeal to emotion, reason and personal integrity. But it needs restating in the 21st century, and Westen states it extremely well.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Simply brilliant, 29 Nov 2010
This review is from: The Political Brain The Role Of Emotion In Deciding The Fate Of The Nation (Paperback)
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 probably be one of the most important books that you could ever read. To have good things to say about God, Darwin, Freud and Skinner takes some doing but the author brilliantly develops a highly original synthesis.
Frederick Toates
Professor of Psychology, The Open University, England.
Author of `Burrhus F. Skinner' (2009)
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5.0 out of 5 stars WORTH READING MORE THAN ONCE, 24 Sep 2013
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This review is from: The Political Brain The Role Of Emotion In Deciding The Fate Of The Nation (Paperback)
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 will be helpful for his future political aspirations. Is taking the book on holiday to read again so it must be good!
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5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent analysis, 11 Jan 2011
Really provided some answers to the hard questions that previous national Democrats could not seem to comprehend.

Excellent read.
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3.0 out of 5 stars an important book , if you can keep awake, 27 Dec 2010
By 
L. northover "Lisa" (Bournemouth) - See all my reviews
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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. I found other peoples reviews more useful in explaining what the book is about.

i would say it is better to send a friend with lots of time on their hands off to read it, then invite them around with a bottle of wine to explain all about it
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Political Brain by Drew Westen, 11 Jun 2011
This review is from: The Political Brain The Role Of Emotion In Deciding The Fate Of The Nation (Paperback)
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 neuroscientist at Emory University. His book should serve as a wake-up call to all those involved in politics who think they know how elections are won and lost.

The truth is somewhat depressing in many ways, which in no way diminishes its importance.

"The political brain is an emotional brain," he tells us. "It is not a dispassionate calculating machine, objectively searching for the right facts, figures and policies to make a reasoned decision."

Political campaigns are won and lost according to the degree to which they affect the electorate on an emotional level.

Actual policies, it turns out, are well down the list of importance.

The book is replete with examples from US election campaigns spanning the past few decades.

As well as illustrating the psychological principles being discussed, these also provide a fascinating overview of American politics during this period.

This book answers questions that will be familiar to anyone who has run serious election campaigns.

Examples include;

Should smears be countered? (Answer: Yes, always).

Should a negative campaign against the other candidate(s) be pursued (yes again, but this must be done right.)

Should difficult issues on which the candidate is weak be avoided? (No, never.)

The list goes on, and much evidence is provided to support the author's conclusions.

Whether we like to admit it or not, what we regard as the rational and enlightened part of the human brain is a relatively new addition to our neural circuitry. Our emotional brain, which evolution by natural selection has honed over millions of years, and which has, on the whole, served us well throughout that period, is the part that continues to dominate our thought processes in so much that we do.

It turns out that even conscious attempts to let reason and rationality guide us are often just `reasoning' applied retrospectively to justify thoughts and actions that our emotional brain had long since decided upon.

Whilst we as humans may struggle to rise above such primal constraints, it is futile to wish away the facts of our inherited genetic makeup. And to do so when you are trying to win an election is likely to be politically fatal, as this book so amply demonstrates.

I would recommend this book to anyone with an interest in the psychology behind electoral politics. Anyone standing as a candidate in an election should read it, as should anyone who is involved in any sort of political campaigning.

This book will cause you to look at your political campaigns in a new light, and inspire you to use what you have learned to ensure that the next campaign you fight has the maximum possible impact on the emotional brains of your electorate. For it is there, and only there, that elections are won or lost.
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