Will we be surprised again in November the way Americans were on November 9, 2016 when they woke up to learn that reality TV star Donald Trump had been elected president? This result defied predictions and polls, and even Trump's own expectations. "Oh, that's going to be embarrassing," Trump recalled later, as he said at the time, anticipating defeat.
Another surprise victory is unlikely to happen again if this election is viewed from the same neuroscience perspective that I used to explain the surprising result of 2016. In short, this article explained how our brain provides two mechanisms. different decision-making; one is conscious and deliberative, and the other is automatic, driven by emotion and especially fear. Trump's strategy does not target the neural circuits of reason in the cerebral cortex; it causes the limbic system. In the 2016 election, undecided voters were swayed by the brain's fear impulses – more simply, gut instinct – once they got inside the voting booth, even though they didn't. been able to explain their decision to pre-election pollsters in a carefully reasoned way. .
In 2020, Trump continues to use the same strategy to use the brain's threat-detection circuitry and emotion-based decision-making to attract votes and slander opponents.
“Biden wants to deliver our country to the violent leftist crowd…. If Biden wins, very simple, China wins. If Biden wins, the crowd wins. If Biden wins, the rioters, anarchists, arsonists and flag burners, they win, ”Trump said at his campaign rally in Wisconsin on September 17, 2020, offering new suspected threats to our nation as his scarecrows 2016 immigrant rapists and foreign terrorists did it. lost power.
While Trump invokes threats of lawlessness and street violence, any tangible increase in violence in political assemblies will benefit Trump's strategy of generating fear. Trump supporters have responded by brandishing and sometimes using firearms during public protests. During the 2016 campaign, Trump urged his supporters to commit violence, suggesting that an assassination of Hillary Clinton by gun rights activists could be used to prevent her from choosing Supreme Court justices . The president ignited the atmosphere surrounding the large protests by calling unidentified military federal security agents to the scene, even as local officials opposed.
He continues to make explosive statements, "I'm your wall between the American dream and chaos," he told a Minnesota audience. When asked by debate moderator Chris Wallace if he was prepared to condemn white supremacists and paramilitary groups, he would not. Instead, he barked what sounded like strategic instructions to the right-wing Proud Boys, widely regarded as an extremist hate group, "Proud Boys – step back and stay away.
But fear-inspired appeals are likely to persuade fewer voters this time around, as we overcome fear in two ways: through reason and experience. The inhibitory neural pathways from the prefrontal cortex to the limbic system will allow reason to stifle fear if the dangers are not based on the facts. The type of street violence that Trump currently opposes was not the norm during the Obama and Biden years. The fear that Biden might turn the United States into a socialist state was also not a problem a year ago. Rather, Biden defeated self-proclaimed “democratic socialist” candidate Bernie Sanders in the presidential primaries.
A psychology and neuroscience-based perspective also illuminates Trump's constant interruptions and insults during the first presidential debate, surging through the moderator's futile efforts to have a reasoned account of facts and positions. The structure of a debate is designed to engage deliberative reasoning in the cerebral cortex of the brain, so Trump annihilated the format to ignite emotion in the limbic system.
Trump's dismissal of experts, be they military generals, career officials, scientists, or even his own elected politicians, is necessary for him to support subcortical decision-making in the mind. voters who won him the election and who maintains his support. The factual decision-making that scientists rely on is the opposite of decision-making based on emotions. In his rhetoric, Trump does not address factual evidence; he rejects or suppresses it even for events that are apparent to many, including global warming, foreign intervention in the US election, the insignificant count at his inauguration, and even the projected trajectory of a destructive hurricane. Instead, “alternative facts” or fabrications are substituted.
This perspective from inside the brain's neural networks also explains the Trump administration's unprecedented erosion of government institutions with missions meant to protect the public (ranging from the Centers for Disease Control to the FBI). These hijackings distract from real and uncontrollable threats, such as the coronavirus pandemic, that can undermine Trump's political and economic goals. Reason cannot always overcome fear, as PTSD demonstrates; but the brain's second mechanism for neutralizing its fear circuits – experience – can do so. Repeated exposure to the frightening situation where the outcome is safe will rewire the subcortical circuits of the brain. This is the basis of the "extinction therapy" used to treat PTSD and phobias. For many, credibility has been eroded by Trump's far-fetched claims, such as suggesting injections of bleach could cure COVID-19, or getting excited about a plant toxin touted by a pillow seller, while the scientific experts present grimace and bite their lip.
In the last election, Trump was a little-known newcomer as a politician, but neither candidate this time around. The "gut reaction" decision-making process excels in complex situations where there is not enough factual information or time to make a reasoned decision. We follow gut instincts, for example, when selecting a dish from a menu at a new restaurant, where we have never seen or tasted it before. We had our fill of politics this time, whatever position one might take. Whether voters choose to vote for Trump on the basis of emotion or reason, they will be better able to articulate the reasons, or rationalizations, of their choice. This should give pollsters better data to make a more accurate prediction.