Research long ago revealed that the portion of the brain that lights up when politics are being discussed is the emotional area–the limbic/amygdala area of the brain–not the rational prefrontal cortex. In short, politics is not a topic about which we are rational–a conclusion that these days may be particularly apparent.

Gauging emotional reactions–how people feel–is more and more the measure for determining strategies in advertising, marketing, and communication of all types, but here is a recent example of how important “how people feel” is to not only their purchasing preferences but their political preferences as well.

A political forecasting tool using artificial emotional intelligence recently accurately predicted the outcome of the Illinois governor race. BPU Holdings’ ZimGo Polling reported on November 5th that Pritzker would win the race with 52% of the vote vs. Rauner’s 39%, falling within 2% of the actual results. The Korean version of the product proved more accurate than six other polling services in the most recent South Korean presidential election.

Crowing about its accuracy, ZimGo Polling is claiming that its product proves that “older legacy polling methods”–using the telephone or other intrusive methods–“have earned their place in the history books alongside the outdated rotary phone and the floppy disk.” Simply asking people how they intend to vote is no longer reliable. That is, in the end, a rational question to an emotional condition.

This new product’s results are achieved by accurately assessing emotional sentiment by sifting through the half billion daily tweets and other public forums touching on the race. The program scores entire paragraphs, including emoticons, and can interpret slang. Seth Grimes, principal analyst for Alta Plana, which specializes in natural language processing, confirms that, “Attention shares and decisions are driven as much by emotion as by fact. Today’s competitive campaigns apply technology to understand both fact and feeling and shape opinion.”

BPU Holdings promotes itself as a company “dedicated to generating the most advanced, usable, secure and innovative Artificial Emotional Intelligence (AEI) technology in the world. Artificial Intelligence (AI) emulates how people think — AEI emulates how people feel.” That certainly sounds like one for the importance of emotional intelligence.

But note Grimes’ last point. Not only is emotion the better gauge of how people intend to vote but it may also be one of the better vehicles for changing opinions. Therein lies the challenge for regulators and the public at large. Emotional intelligence, the real human variety, gives people the tools to recognize, understand and manage their own and others’ emotions. It is, however, a value-neutral ability; that is, it can be used toward achieving any end, whether socially good or bad. Simply being able to employ emotionally intelligent strategies–strategies that successfully appeal to the emotions–is not necessarily what’s best for the country at large, even if they garner the most votes.

So here we have a conundrum. Do people know in a rational way what’s good for the country politically? Or do they just like to feel good? Emotional intelligence at its best engages the cognitive part of the brain to help assess emotional data and responses. As Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman pointed out in his best-selling Thinking Fast and Slow, combining the strengths of both emotions (his System 1) and rational thought (his System 2) achieves the best results.

Politics may well be an area where engaging our rational thought to test and try our emotional preferences is highly advisable. Yes, puppies are adorable, and something like “puppies for all” might be emotionally appealing. And maybe even politically or economically possible. But we have to leaven those emotional reactions–which make us feel compassionate or generous or empowered–with rational input.

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Photo of Ronda Muir Ronda Muir

Muir is a lawyer with both Big Law and inside counsel experience in the US and abroad. Grounded in the behavioral sciences, she provides psychologically sophisticated and business-savvy advice to maximize individual and organizational law practice performance in the 21st century. Muir specializes in getting your lawyers invested in their careers, motivated, productive, profitable and leading effectively.

Muir publishes LawPeopleBlog and is an award-winning author and speaker on numerous current issues unique to the legal industry. Her best-selling book Beyond Smart: Lawyering with Emotional Intelligence, published by the ABA in 2017, is the first comprehensive guide to understanding, using and raising emotional intelligence in the unique context of law practice.