Getting To The Heart Of The Voter

Former Mayor of New York City and candidate for the Republican Presidential nomination Rudy Giuliani, left, answers questions from Celia Sandys, Sir Winston Churchill's granddaughter, in London, Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2007. Giuliani says he was inspired by Churchill when he faced the 9/11 terror attacks as the mayor. AP

Whether it's a candidate's arched brow, the way he holds his head, or how she injects humor, these are all critical to the way voters respond.

Substance still matters, CBS Evening News anchor Katie Couric reports, but it's not what ultimately gets someone elected, according to consultant John Neffinger.

"You instantly size somebody up based on their posture, their facial expressions, the way they carry themselves," he said. "All of these things give you a gut-level sense about somebody. And that's what it is that voters are reaching to at the end of the day when they choose between one candidate and the other."

Call it the year of the feeling candidate, who understands the importance of emotional appeal. It's simple, says author Drew Westen.

"If you want to win the hearts and minds of voters, you'd better start with their hearts, because otherwise they're not going to be listening to much about what's on your mind," he said.

That's the advice he has given a number of Democratic candidates - who, exactly, he won't say, but he does say there's scientific proof that when voters make choices, it's not about an intellectual connection.

He pointed it out on a brain scan.

"So where the brain isn't lit up is all up here and down here, which are essentially the thinking circuits of the brain," Westen said. "That's basically the dead zone in much of politics. And you can plug away at those millimeters of neural turf if you want, through an entire election. You do that and you're going to lose."

Westen says Democrats should be warmer and less wonky - unlike Michael Dukakis when asked if he would favor the death penalty if his wife were murdered.

"No, I don't Bernard," he said. "And I think you know that I've opposed the death penalty during all of my life."

"Do you have feelings? Are you a man?" Westen said. "Do you respond the way a normal man responds when asked a question like that?"

But today's candidates seem to be listening to Westen's advice.

"My mother died of cancer when she was 53 years old," Democratic candidate and Illinois Sen. Barack Obama said on the campaign trail. "So I know what it's like to watch a loved one suffer.

And it's OK to show that you don't have all the answers. Westen said former Sen. John Edwards aced this response to a question about gay marriage.

"But I personally have been on a journey on this issue," Edwards said. "I feel enormous conflict about it."

"I think it was a great response, and I think the reason it was a great response was because he showed honesty," Westen said.

Does he think if candidates are honest and forthcoming and true to themselves, people forgive positions they don't necessarily agree with?

"Yes," he said. "In fact, the data are crystal clear on this. People prefer someone who shares their values. But what they don't like is someone who doesn't display theirs, who you don't know where they stand on things."

But being too human, too spontaneous, can and will be used against you. Hillary Clinton's laugh has been analyzed this week - and even mocked by Jon Stewart.

The bottom line, Westen believes, is that authenticity counts. Candidates should go for words that will send hearts soaring, not heads spinning.

"I don't remember Martin Luther King's 'I Have a Plan' speech. I do remember 'I Have a Dream,'" he said. "And what Democrats need to remember is that if people don't dream with you, they're not going to listen to your 16-point plan."
  • Katie Couric

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