How is it possible that some voters currently pledging their loyalties to Sanders or Trump claim that they would vote for the other’s candidate before casting their ballot for Clinton? What do supporters of a candidate that stands for:
- eliminating student debt, creating income equality, liberal immigration policies, and environmental protection,
have in common with a candidate who apparently has no interest in any of those issues, but emphasizes:
- keeping immigrants out, bringing back off-shore factory jobs, no special concern for gender, civil, or racial equality, and eliminating the EPA?
The answer is the anger generated by both candidates. Mentally and physically, it’s the same anger in both camps, fueled by different issues.
Underneath all that anger is another common, and even more incendiary emotion; a primal fear that something of great value, like health, resources, status, respect, or stability are being threatened. Both sides see these fundamental human needs, their fundamental concerns, at risk of the policies maintained by the current status quo. They want change – whatever that means – to restore what they fear is slipping away.
Running hot on the fear stirred up by candidates guarantees that irrational positions, with little or no processing in the modern human brain (or prefrontal cortex) can seem appealing, even possible. Ideas that would strike calmer voters as uninformed at best, and ridiculous in some cases, receive ecstatic cheers of approval from those feeling “the Bern”, or ready to “make America Great again”.
What’s happening is that when the neurochemical, dopamine, our big-time, feel-good reward for acknowledging fear, shoots sky high above healthy levels, it blocks highly charged, emotional messages from being processed by regions of the brain that could think critically, solve problems logically, feel empathy, or control emotions.
Now, up the ante. Dopamine is addictive. It’s an opioid – a milder form of amphetamines and cocaine. And like those drugs, it demands larger doses of dopamine to sustain the high, which in politics this season amounts to meaner rhetoric and more frightening predictions. Bernie and Donald’s followers will stay passionately, sometimes violently loyal as long as their candidate continues to supply their addictive fixes, available at rallies, or all over the media.
This works for Bernie and Donald, but not so much for a nation with real problems requiring measured, balanced, thoughtful guidance.
And Hillary? In agreement or not with her policies, most raise relatively little sustained excitement or controversy, and therefore, evoke limited fear and anger. Her studied, more fact-based positions, go straight to the human brain for analysis, without so much as a squirt of dopamine. No highs? No addictions? No fist-fights. No frenzied constituencies? Expect a relatively measured, issues-based campaign, that for Bernie’s and Donald’s devotees represents the fearful/ dopamine-provoking status quo.