In Anxiety, Bullying, Conflict, Dopamine, Influences, Politics, Social Issues by DC McGuire9 Comments

Spread the word, please share!Share on FacebookShare on Google+Tweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInShare on Reddit

How is it possible that some voters currently pledging their loyalties to Sanders or Trump claim that they would vote for the other’s candidate before casting their ballot for Clinton?  What do supporters of a candidate that stands for:

  • eliminating student debt, creating income equality, liberal immigration policies, and environmental protection,

have in common with a candidate who apparently has no interest in any of those issues, but emphasizes:

  • keeping immigrants out, bringing back off-shore factory jobs, no special concern for gender, civil, or racial equality, and eliminating the EPA?

The answer is the anger generated by both candidates.  Mentally and physically, it’s the same anger in both camps, fueled by different issues.

Underneath all that anger is another common, and even more incendiary emotion; a primal fear that something of great value, like health, resources, status, respect, or stability are being threatened.  Both sides see these fundamental human needs, their fundamental concerns, at risk of the policies maintained by the current status quo. They want change – whatever that means – to restore what they fear is slipping away.

Running hot on the fear stirred up by candidates  guarantees that irrational positions, with little or no processDT - postaling in the modern human brain (or prefrontal cortex) can seem appealing, even possible.  Ideas that would strike calmer voters as uninformed at best, and ridiculous in some cases, receive ecstatic cheers of approval from those feeling “the Bern”, or ready to “make America Great again”.

What’s happening is that when the neurochemical, dopamine, our big-time, feel-good reward for acknowledging fear,  shoots sky high above healthy levels, it blocks highly charged, emotional messages from being processed by regions of the brain that could think critically, solve problems logically, feel empathy, or control emotions.

Now, up the ante.  Dopamine is addictive.  It’s an opioid – a milder form of amphetamines and cocaine.  And like those drugs, it demands larger doses of dopamine to sustain the high, which in politics this season amounts to meaner rhetoric and more frightening predictions.  Bernie and Donald’s followers will stay passionately, sometimes violently loyal as long as their candidate continues to supply their addictive fixes, available at rallies, or all over the media.

This works for Bernie and Donald, but not so much for a nation with real problems requiring measured, balanced, thoughtful guidance.

And Hillary?  In agreement or not with her policies, most raise relatively little sustained excitement or controversy, and therefore, evoke limited fear and anger.  Her studied, more fact-based positions, go straight to the human brain for analysis, without so much as a squirt of dopamine. No highs?  No addictions? No fist-fights.  NHillaryo frenzied constituencies?  Expect a relatively measured, issues-based campaign, that for Bernie’s and Donald’s devotees represents the fearful/ dopamine-provoking status quo.


  1. Mike

    Great post! Both Trump and Sanders are able to engage in the emotional contagion with their presumed constituents. More and more Americans are frustrated with a democratic process that seems to no longer work as we once trusted it would. Trump and Sanders have been able to exploit these disconnected feelings among voters and clearly their campaign teams understand how and why this is working. Political strategists are certain to take note. It should be of no surprise to anyone when the “rage engaged” strategy is employed as the new norm in future American politics. Thoughtful, intelligent, well planned and scripted political discourse has no future in a dopamine addicted, media driven world.

  2. alicia lancashire

    Finally! someone can explain this clearly. I’ve been so confused because neither of these candidates stand for the same issues. I could not believe it, what would the reasoning be. Of course now I understand, reason plays no part in this. Thank you for clearing things up DC.

    1. D.C. McGuire

      With just a little knowledge of dopamine, we could be making much better choices – and the return of reason would be a real option!

  3. Author
    Sharyn J.

    Loved the article. You bring us back to the basic common denominators by looking at how the brains works in order to understand what is happening around us. Your article explains a lot in a straight forward way and is useful in considering the commonalities in the Sanders and Trump appeal. Indeed, both candidates have tapped into that primal fear. The question remains – how to deal with it. I hate to think that logical discourse is a thing of the past – too dull – but that the excitement of change – at any cost – is the future. What about OUR fear of what is slipping away in this election? Will some sort of sanity prevail or will the next 4 years play out like a sordid reality show?
    Thank you for your insights!! Always thought provoking.

  4. Judi Wisebart

    Thank you Dr. DC we need some clarity and positivity …NOW!

    1. D.C. McGuire

      You’re so right! Turns out that just a little knowledge and a simple commitment to managing our brain, could make all the difference in the quality of our lives, individually and globally! There’s reason for big time hope!!!

    1. Author
      DC McGuire

      Fortunately, now neuroscience shows us that intelligent thinking and behavior can make a comeback – if we deliberately choose what we do with our brains!

Leave a Comment