Sunday, December 06, 2009

Michael Ignatieff is Appealing to the Wrong Part of Our Brains

If the media reports are any indication, the “get rid of Michael Ignatieff” sounds are becoming louder within the Liberal party. Bring in Bob Rae is the refrain. Will this fix the Liberals dismal showing in the polls?

In that Bob Rae is more “warm and cuddly” than Michael Ignatieff, this might work. Our brains prefer such warmth. But the cost to the Liberal party could be worse. Changing leadership three times in as many years does not sit well with the electorate (“Do these guys know what they are doing?”).

A better strategy would be to work on Ignatieff’s emotional messaging before giving up the ship. He’s not tugging at our hearts enough. That stern look and holding the government accountable for a report card don’t appeal to issues that are at the heart of our evolution like survival, the care of our children and extended families and the well-being of our local communities.

Too much reason from Michael Ignatieff, not enough emotion. He’s little different from Stephen Harper who, in fact, is warming up his image and delivery and distancing himself further from the opposition. We now have a strong image of Harper “letting his hair down” playing a Beatles song on the piano with some decent singing. The Liberals have been outmaneuvered by the Conservatives on reaching the right part of our brains first---that which appeals to our emotions.

From an evolutionary perspective, we reason with our emotions first then make choices based on facts, and figures. “Emotions provide a compass that leads us toward or away from things” as psychologist Drew Westen explains in The Political Brain: The Role of Emotion in Deciding the Fate of the Nation.

“Feelings” according to Westen are millions of years older than “reason” or conscious thought processes. They are hard-wired into human brains across all cultures. The evolution of our species has predisposed us to being moved by leaders with whom we feel “an emotional resonance”.

There is a caveat. We can easily become turned off by “bad” governance---again an emotional action supported by evidence (or quasi-evidence). The morality of not having the electorate’s best interests in mind eventually costs a political leader. So too in any organization.

No comments: