News Release: Politics

May 19,  2008

'The Political Brain' Explains Hillary Clinton's Slide

New paperback edition includes postscript on

the 2008 primaries from Emory’s Drew Westen

How did upstart Barack Obama manage to derail Hillary Clinton's once fast-track bid for the Democratic presidential nomination? The answer lies as much in the minds and brains of the voters as in delegate math, says Drew Westen, Emory University professor of psychology and psychiatry and author of "The Political Brain: The Role of Emotion in Deciding the Fate of the Nation."

The groundbreaking book on political campaign strategy recently came out in paperback, featuring a new postscript on the 2008 primaries.

Update Explains Hillary Clinton's Inability to Emotionally Connect

"It's not the issues that distinguish winning and losing candidates," Westen says, summing up the book. "It's the emotions the candidates elicit and the gut-level feelings people associate with them."

The Clinton-Obama battle drives home the point. Westen notes that Hillary Clinton started the race with the advantage of once occupying the White House with a popular, inspiring Democratic president. "Bill Clinton's administration is linked in people's minds, both consciously and unconsciously, with a period of unprecedented prosperity, much more so than with his sexual indiscretions," Westen says. "Hillary Clinton knew better than to distance herself from her husband and his administration, as Al Gore mistakenly did."

Hillary Clinton's problem was she was running against a candidate with the emotional appeal of Bill Clinton, Westen adds. "She simply couldn't out-inspire Obama. That left her no choice but to 'go negative,' which worked temporarily, but ultimately reinforced pre-existing negative feelings toward her, instead of toward Obama."

'The Political Brain' Release Gains Attention of Democratic Party

The release of "The Political Brain" last summer attracted widespread attention in national media and political circles, including kudos from Howard Dean, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, and former President Clinton himself.

For 20 years, Westen has explored the role of emotions in how the brain processes information. "The Political Brain" was based on research he led at Emory, using functional neuroimaging to examine committed Democrats and Republicans, who were asked to evaluate negative information about their candidates just prior to the 2004 presidential election.

The book describes how a better understanding of the mind and brain translates into better campaign strategy and more compelling messages on the thorniest issues, from abortion to guns to race.

Since the book's publication, Westen has become a sought-after political consultant, offering advice, among others, to the major Democratic presidential campaigns, during one of the most exciting elections in history.

"The way to win elections, particularly against a Republican Party that understands how to move people, is to understand the political brain -- how it evolved, how it works and how central emotion is to it," Westen says.


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