5 Cents: The Doctor Is In

How to change your life through mind and body.

Is There Really Such Thing as an Undecided Voter?

Does the undecided voter deserve so much of the candidates' attention/resources?

Unless you live in a world without television, newspapers, the internet, and are hermitically sealed from civilization, then there is a high probability that you know that the campaign for president is drawing to a close.   With the election expected to be close, and an electorate that is virtually evenly polarized, the handful of undecided holdouts has garnered a tremendous amount of attention.    Millions of dollars have been spent for the purposes of winning over this legion of undecided voters.  The television networks covering the presidential debates even formulated groups of undecided voters as a litmus test for the candidates’ various sound bites. 

Yet, is it truly possible to be undecided?  There is enough evidence to suggest that decisions are often initiated at an unconscious level, and somewhat later materialize into conscious choices and behavior.  In fact, it is quite common for unconscious emotional forces to drive conscious decisions and behavior.  There is further evidence to suggest how the unconscious decision process can be influenced by factors outside of consciousness.  When these unconscious preferences are formulated, the conscious mind will typically look for logical reasons to justify these emotional choices.  It was United States Supreme Court justice William Douglas who stated  “At the constitutional level where we work, ninety percent of any decision is emotional. The rational part of us supplies the reasons for supporting our predilections.”

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What I have learned in my use of hypnosis and decision making over the last 30 years, is that people’s unconscious decisions often gravitate to what is familiar, since familiarity is what is comfortable and safe.  Conversely, what is not familiar is experienced as uncomfortable and unsafe.   Typically our upbringing and early experiences are the basis of what is deemed as unconsciously familiar and safe.  But keep in mind that safety is much more a function of familiarity than it is about being physically safe.   For example, there can be a sense of safety in feeling miserable merely because it is what someone has always known.   Remember, the unconscious is emotional and not logical.   It is no surprise that our political candidates rely considerably on campaign slogans that are steeped in fear for the purposes of manipulating the unconscious chemistry related to safety and comfort.

Yet comfort and familiarity are not the ingredients that typically produce healthy conscious decisions.  Instead, a reliance on comfort and safety as a foundation for decision making will more often reinforce the status quo and interfere with change and innovation.  Yet it is very difficult to resist the unconscious yearnings for familiarity and safety.

So can the ensemble of undecided voters truly pry themselves away from the unconscious mind’s reliance on familiarity and safety?  To do so will depend on their ability to manage the dissonance or discomfort that is generated by going against the grain of what’s familiar.   This is not an easy task, for we are instinctually driven to perceive discomfort and dissonance as a threat, and to avoid it at all costs, and to make choices that are aligned with safety.   Sadly, the undecided voters that are not prepared to manage this dissonance may find themselves invariably falling victim to what has historically been familiar for them as well.

Marc Schoen is an Assistant Clinical Professor at UCLA's School of Medicine.

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