Behavioural Design Digest
May 31th, 2019

Dear reader,

Why do people vote the way they vote? What's the psychology behind voting?  As the dust from the European election is settling, pundits, news editors and political scientists are feeding a hungry audience with an endless stream of answers. Our brain is a pattern-seeking machine that demands explanations, and the role of media is to provide us with comforting answers that help us to make sense of things. 

The question they all try to answer is the question of how to interpret the signal that the voters gave. Was it fear of immigration? Was it yet another punishment of the ruling elites? Was it a deeply rooted racism that has been lurking underneath the surface for years and is now resurfacing again?

What if everything we think about elections
is just plain wrong?

I think the problem with all these interpretations is that they just don't fit with how the brain works and how people make decisions in the real world.  I want to argue that people vote with their feeling, not their mind. They vote for leadership, not parties. And, as I said several times before in this newsletter: they answer a different question in the voting booth. Let me illustrate this with a couple of observations: 

  • The Tories and Labour got obliterated in the UK by Nigel Farage's Brexit party. The question that people answered in the voting booth was: How can I hurt this political class who created this mess the most?
  • The Green Parties should have won a landslide victory in Europe, giving the fact that Climate Change is all over the news. They haven't. The question that people answered in the voting booth is: "Do I want those green fanatics to suck all the joy out of my life? They make me feel guilty."
  • The far-right party Vlaams Belang won a historical victory in Belgium. They cashed in on the immigration fear-mongering done by the more centrist right-wing party NV-A. People probably figured out that if floods of immigrants are about to take over Belgium, they'd probably be better off with the tough guys. 


People vote for exciting leadership.

Once again, the far right is on the rise everywhere in Europe. It's easy to look at it in horror and to think Europe is turning into a racist continent. I refuse to believe this. I think something different is going on. I think people vote for excitement. Everywhere in Europe, it's the far right who are the most exciting. They stand for everything the traditional political class doesn't stand for.  The traditional policial class stands for reason, complexity, compromise, and executive language, the populist stand for fun, simplicity, political incorrectness, anger, resentment, and a desire for change. They voice what people feel, while traditional parties voice what people ought to think. 

The question that people answer is: Who is the leader that will get the job done? Is it the strong, angry leader or leadership team with big visions? Or the boring bureaucrat, for whom I feel no sympathy? Who will execute the revenge of the losers of globalisation?  Those who sound like spectacular people with vision and fresh ideas? Or those who look and sound like Willy and Brenda the HR-managers?

If you want to understand the seismic shifts in how people vote, don't look at the content. Left or Right doesn't mean a thing anymore. It's all about the leaders. Parties with boring managers lose. Parties with energetic, angry, populist leaders win.  People prefer leaders with the audacity to say outrageous things. It's not that they necessarily connect with the lies. It's more that they don't care.  They don't pay attention to the content anyway. 

Final thought: Why progressives are losing

It's pretty evident that all the energy, excitement and action is on the far right side of the political spectrum. Progressives are losing because they have lost the anger, the fighting spirit, and the capacity to energise and to mobilise people. Whereas the right unites people in a fight against elites and immigrants, the left is complaining about fairness and obsessed with political correctness. It's about time progressives get their act straight. To study Alexandria Ocasio-Cortes could be a great start.  To listen to George Lakoff's podcast on framing would be a second. 


Three great ways to re-energise your brain this summer

We decided to do a couple of extra editions of our Behavioural Design Academy this summer. Treat yourself with two days of high-intensity training on the art and science of influence: 
  • July 4th and 5th: Behavioural Design and Finance: A two-day masterclass for people working in finance on how to design positive financial behaviours and habits. (Dutch) 
  • June 27th and 28th: Behavioral Design Academy - Two-day foundational course (English)
  • July 18th and 19th: Behavioral Design Academy - Two-day foundational course (Dutch) 

Do you consider hiring SUE? Book 60 minutes with SUE. Get to know the people behind SUE / Behavioural Design Academy and get a Behavioural Design perspective on your challenge. Who knows where it could lead to...

Book 60 minutes with SUE
That's all for this week, we hope to catch you next week!

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