What Do Presidential Debates and Colonoscopies Have in Common?

At some point, each additional GOP Presidential debate becomes just a bigger pain in the . . . But science shows us that the last debate before a vote—and the last memorable event in the last debate—is paramount to how we remember the entire event. 

In fact, memorable moments at the end, not consistent performance throughout, determine who wins and who loses.

In this awesome TED talk, Nobel winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman explains the weird difference between our experiencing selves and our remembering selves.  And his research offers very important information for candidates and campaigns:


If you want to win, forget the experience; own the memory.

That’s why you can predict primary results from the last debate when the candidates are close and a lot of voters are only mildly committed.  (There’s a lot of great information about how committed minds defend their decisions, but that’s for a later post.)

Whether writing a blog post, planning an event, giving a speech, or just engaging in a conversation, the audience’s memory will not be the sum of the experience, but the memory created.  As Kahneman points out, memories of colonoscopies are better when the unpleasant experience lasts longer.

Newt Gingrich won South Carolina’s final debate and its primary. Then, Newt under performed in Florida’s final debate . . . and now he’s losing ground to Romney. Just like a protracted colonoscopy.

BONUS:  Candidates and parties worry about the spin as much as they worry about the presentation for this exact reason. The media itself determines who wins a debate, too, by dominating memory.  Most people don’t watch debates or major speeches. They get a summary from the news.  And that summary is designed to influence their memories. 

P.S.  I will be talking about the brain science of winning elections on Saturday, February 25, at the 3rd Anniversary Tea Party.  Don’t miss it.

What Rick Perry Can Learn From Clark Griswold

In 2001, I loaded my three boys, ages 13, 10, and 8 at the time, into the car and headed to downtown St. Louis. The Cubs were in town, and I planned to introduce my boys to the greatest rivalry in pro sports. We parked (for twenty dollars) and headed toward the stadium. There was only one problem: we didn’t have any tickets. I planned to buy some on the street.

Scalpers were everywhere, but I underestimated the street value of tickets to this particular game. Four tickets together were hard to come by. I had over three hundred dollars in cash, but the few scalpers with sets of four demanded twice that. After forty minutes, I gave up.

clark-griswold-tree-240x300The boys didn’t complain as we listened to the first inning on the ride back to West County. They’d grown accustomed to dad’s ambitious plans falling apart. I’m pretty sure that when I wasn’t around, they called me “Clark Griswold.” And I know their friends did. (Thanks, Facebook.)

I’m reminded of this embarrassing episode every time I hear Rick Perry’s name.

I put high hopes on a Perry campaign earlier in the summer. I thought he was exactly what the country needed. He looks the part, he seemed great with the press, and he’s a former Democrat, just like Ronald Reagan. He seemed to have the right attitude, as well.

Rick Perry, though, is the Clark Griswold of presidential politics. Like my aborted baseballRickPerryDebateexcursion with the boys, Perry’s campaign strategy seems to have stopped with his announcement. His debate performances—all of them—have been dreadful.

This will sound uncharitable and condescending, but I know of no other way to say it: Rick Perry doesn’t seem to know very much.

He might be intelligent in IQ (I don’t honestly know), but he seems to lack the most basic information about important matters like Pakistani nukes and climate scientists. (Would it be too much to carry a card with “Dr. Roy Spencer” or “Roger Pielke Sr” written on it? Really?)

His defense of tuition credits for illegals irritates many, but at least he knows what the DREAM Act is.

It is Perry’s lack of stamina bothers me the most, though. He seems to punch himself out in the first round of these debates. He seemed to punch himself out in the first 72 hours of his campaign, too. I’m afraid that he’d collapse in exhaustion immediately after the GOP convention. Or, if elected, he’d end up in a sanitarium on a Caribbean island recuperating for six months immediately following the inauguration. For such a rugged looking man, he seems fragile.

Take it from a father who lives every day with the guilt of having been less than a perfect parent: Rick Perry doesn’t want to take a job that he can’t handle. Not when the world seems to be crumbling and frightened eyes everywhere look toward Uncle Sam for guidance and strength and ideas and hope.

And if you don’t believe me, just ask Barack Obama.