The body politic's shifty mind
This year, science is really stepping into the political arena. Researchers are trying to get a bead on what is happening inside voters'...
Seattle Times staff columnist
This year, science is really stepping into the political arena.
Researchers are trying to get a bead on what is happening inside voters' heads. It should prove interesting. Heck, I'd like to see them analyze the candidates, too. There's a growing amount of research supporting the idea that many decisions are made in our subconscious before we are aware anything is going on.
The Seattle Times carried a story last week about several companies putting this brain science to work figuring out what voters are thinking.
It's called neuromarketing, and businesses also are starting to use it to understand customers.
One company, EmSense, measured brain waves and other physical responses to debates, commercials and speeches.
They were able to tell what caused voters to light up.
We don't always recognize what our subconscious is up to, but if you ask us questions we usually know what we are supposed to say. Peeking at our gray matter might yield a more accurate answer than asking voters or consumers to fill out a questionnaire.
That is particularly true when conflicting feelings and values are involved.
You've heard about the disparity that happens with black candidates. Pre-election polls will show a certain level of support, but the numbers are nearly always lower after voters cast their ballots.
Well, a couple of professors at the University of Washington have devised a test that might give candidates a clearer idea what they are dealing with because it bypasses voters' mouths and gets into their heads.
The findings they announced Tuesday suggest polls overestimate support for Barack Obama and underestimate support for Hillary Clinton.
They asked voters whom they planned to vote for, and 42 percent said Obama, versus 34 percent who chose Clinton.
Then the volunteers took a version of the Implicit Association Test, which requires rapid responses to words or images on a computer screen.
The IAT, which was developed by University of Washington psychology Professor Anthony Greenwald, has a proven record for measuring unconscious bias. The idea is that you make selections before your conscious self has time to screen your deeper feelings.
Clinton came out ahead with 48 percent to Obama's 25 percent.
Greenwald said that in previous elections, what people said and what the test showed them feeling were closely matched. So this year stands out.
And, he said, the drop-off in support for Obama held for blacks as well as whites and women as well as men.
The results don't mean those whose words didn't match their feelings won't vote for Obama, but it does suggest they'll have to overcome some internal hurdles to do it.
(You can take the test, or a corresponding test for the Republican race, at https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/demo/featuredtask.html.)
This is good information for the campaign organizations, but next time, I want someone to put the candidates in a lab. I want to know what's really going on in their heads.
Jerry Large's column appears Monday and Thursday. Reach him at 206-464-3346 or email@example.com.
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