By Tom Dougherty
With the risk of offending and angering everyone – a Stealing Share specialty – the US political campaign provides an opportunity to better understand the science of brand persuasion if we can get out of our own way and truly see. The campaign provides a window to human behavior and how the highest emotional intensity in a category can cause blindness to rational thought.
Political Party Branding is a Slave to Precepts
At Stealing Share, we know that human behavior is an obedient slave to what we call precepts. Our understanding of purchase decisions (and the choice of political parties and candidates are absolutely purchase decisions) is an emotional choice without roots in rational or intellectual ideas. We choose our political bent emotionally, and then we support that decision with as many “rational arguments” as we can muster to justify that non-rational choice.
We have written many articles regarding this phenomenon, and you can search our site for exposition on “precepts” and how beliefs drive behavior and are the foundations for all of human behavior. Yet, political parties ruminate for months over rational “planks in the platform” and try to point out rational differences between candidates, as if any of these ideas mattered a jot to the converted. After all, political arguments usually end in this sentence — “yes…but, I still believe…” (Read: no rational argument really matters so don’t waste your time talking to me of facts.)
This brings to the forefront an important element of precepts: They do not have to be true to be believed. The power of a belief is not linked to its level of truth. (In fact, often the more ridiculous a belief, the stronger the adherence to that belief.) (Read more about precepts here)
Don’t Bother Me With The Facts
Some years back, during the presidential debate season, hardly a mind will be changed because of the debates. Republicans will be assured that Senator McCain “won” the debate just as assuredly as the Democrats will insist Senator Obama “won” the very same debate, no matter what is said. Even if a preferred candidate looks like he did not shine above the other candidate in the debate, all loyalties will return to the pre-debate score after a week or so. Why? Because we do not chose our loyalties by rational means. It is not “don’t bother me with the facts” as much as it is “I hear only the facts that my emotional filters allow.” Political party branding is more than this. Bigger than this.
That latter statement is the key. We do switch loyalties, often based on social forces and the candidates themselves, but that mostly belongs to those in the middle. But even they will make an emotional snapshot of a choice early and, even though they say they have not made a choice, that emotional snapshot will be the same in September as it will be in November.
VP Selection As Proof
Nothing makes this clearer than the recent vice-presidential choices by both parties really do not matter. Each candidate could well have chosen Daffy Duck as his running mate and the politically loyal would have found the means to accept and support it.
Those that would argue with this position should look back to Missouri Senator Thomas Eagleton, the original VP nominee of then Democratic presidential nominee George McGovern in 1972. When it was disclosed that Senator Eagleton had undergone shock treatments for depression years earlier, the Democratic machine felt his presence would be a distraction to the party faithful and might cost McGovern the election. So they dumped Eagleton and brought in Sergeant Shriver, who was associated with JFK’s Camelot.
As the VP nominee, he helped McGovern lose by one of the largest landslides in US history. Despite the Vietnam war and the turmoil of the late 60s, nothing McGovern could have done or said would have changed a single mind. If he had stayed with Eagleton, the results could not have been worse than moving to the Kennedyesque Sergeant Shriver. Why? Because these rational arguments simply don’t matter.
President Obama ran his primary on a promise of “change” and then nominated old school Senator Joe Biden to be his VP. Did anyone who hated Obama change their mind because of this nomination? Did anyone who loved Obama suddenly say, ”Well… that is not change and I can no longer support him?”
The Republican VP nominee is even a clearer representation of emotional blindness. When it was reported earlier in the week that Governor Sarah Palin’s oldest daughter was unmarried and pregnant, the party faithful saw this as “proof positive of her strong family values” because the daughter intended to carry the baby to term and marry the baby’s father. If one of the Obama children were a few years older and in the same condition, the self-same Republicans would see it as “proof positive” that Obama has poor morals and does not keep parental tabs on his kids. I can hear Rush Limbaugh in my head now.
What is the truth? In political branding the truth is it does not matter. All that matters is belief. Changing human behavior means influencing the beliefs that drive it, not bombastically shouting the reasons why. Reason has nothing to do with it. It is all about politics. (Read more about branding of political parties here)