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Making voting choices by "unconscious cognition"

From Colin Rule’s blog.

Brooks in today’s Times: “…many of the theories we come up with are bogus. They are based on the assumption that voters make cold, rational decisions about who to vote for and can tell us why they decided as they did. This is false.
 
In reality, we voters — all of us — make emotional, intuitive decisions about who we prefer, and then come up with post-hoc rationalizations to explain the choices that were already made beneath conscious awareness. “People often act without knowing why they do what they do,” Daniel Kahneman, a Nobel Prize winner, noted in an e-mail message to me this week. “The fashion of political writing this year is to suggest that people choose their candidate by their stand on the issues, but this strikes me as highly implausible.” …
 
It is no accident that the major candidates in the Republican field are a pastor, a businessman and a war hero. These are the three most evocative Republican leadership models. Nor is it an accident that the Democratic race is a clash between a daughter of the feminist movement, a beneficiary of the civil rights movement and a self-styled proletarian. These are powerful Democratic categories.
 
In making these associations, voters are trying to perform trait inference. They are trying to divine inner abilities from outward signs.
 
At the same time, voters embark on an emotional journey with candidates. Antonio Damasio and Joseph LeDoux have shown that emotion isn’t the opposite of reason. We use emotion to assign value to things, thus making decision-making possible…
 
Each of us has an unconscious but consistent way of construing the world. Some of us light up when we see a candidate being intelligent, others when we see a candidate being friendly or sentimental. This is the mode we use every day to make sense of the world.
 
My own intuition is that this unconscious cognition is pretty effective. People are skilled at judging character. And through reading, thinking and close observation, they can educate their unconscious to make smarter and finer distinctions.”
 
I think the arrival of William Kristol has renewed my appreciation for David Brooks. While we come to many different conclusions on the issues, I value his thoughtfulness on the human condition and the limitations inherent in the “rational actor” model of American politics.

                        author

Colin Rule

Colin Rule is CEO of Resourceful Internet Solutions, Inc. ("RIS"), home of Mediate.com, MediateUniversity.com, Arbitrate.com, CaseloadManager.com and a number of additional leading online dispute resolution initiatives.  From 2017 to 2020, Colin was Vice President for Online Dispute Resolution at Tyler Technologies. Tyler acquired Modria.com, an ODR provider that Colin co-founded,… MORE >

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