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In TIME, a couple of days ago – How Obama Is Using the Science of Change:

Two weeks before Election Day, Barack Obama’s campaign was mobilizing millions of supporters; it was a bit late to start rewriting get-out-the-vote (GOTV) scripts. “BUT, BUT, BUT,” deputy field director Mike Moffo wrote to Obama’s GOTV operatives nationwide, “What if I told you a world-famous team of genius scientists, psychologists and economists wrote down the best techniques for GOTV scripting?!?! Would you be interested in at least taking a look? Of course you would!!”

Moffo then passed along guidelines and a sample script from the Consortium of Behavioral Scientists, a secret advisory group of 29 of the nation’s leading behaviorists. The key guideline was a simple message: “A Record Turnout Is Expected.” That’s because studies by psychologist Robert Cialdini and other group members had found that the most powerful motivator for hotel guests to reuse towels, national-park visitors to stay on marked trails and citizens to vote is the suggestion that everyone is doing it. “People want to do what they think others will do,” says Cialdini, author of the best seller Influence. “The Obama campaign really got that.” (See pictures of Obama taken by everyday Americans.)

The existence of this behavioral dream team — which also included best-selling authors Dan Ariely of MIT (Predictably Irrational) and Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein of the University of Chicago (Nudge) as well as Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman of Princeton — has never been publicly disclosed, even though its members gave Obama white papers on messaging, fundraising and rumor control as well as voter mobilization. All their proposals — among them the famous online fundraising lotteries that gave small donors a chance to win face time with Obama — came with footnotes to peer-reviewed academic research. “It was amazing to have these bullet points telling us what to do and the science behind it,” Moffo tells TIME. “These guys really know what makes people tick.”

President Obama is still relying on behavioral science. But now his Administration is using it to try to transform the country. Because when you know what makes people tick, it’s a lot easier to help them change…

Read the whole thing.

Yes, Obama is doing science. Behavioral economics.

Sure, Republicans also used science. Cognitive Psychology.

But Rupublicans used focus groups to learn how to make voters fearful, in order to switch off rational thinking and turn on emotional responses. They trained the people, for decades, to respond with fear and unthinking negative emotions, to words like “government”, “taxes”, “environment”, “welfare”, “progress”, etc, in order to trigger the primitive animalistic fears that the GOP candidates could then capture and turn into electoral victories. The entire generation grew up thinking those are bad words. They trained people to believe that black is white, and up is down, and left is right, because they knew that liberal ideas are both in sync with reality and what people want, so people needed to believe the Orwellian language in order to vote for the conservative, long-ago debunked ideas.

Obama is doing something different – using science to get us to curb our emotions and start using reason, to see the world as it is and not the way we would like it to be, and then to, by changing our behaviors, do something to make the world a better place.

But in order to be able to do this, he has to go slow. This is how he won – appealing to the moderates whose frames can be switched back and forth as long as they don’t appear “too radical” to begin with. People who are already progressives did not then, and do not now, think that Obama’s ideas are good enough (and I am one of those for sure). But he has to turn many more millions of Americans onto his proposals if they are to work. In the meantime, the progressives will have to suck it up, or bitch about it, and wait until the Overton Window has moved sufficiently enough – and that takes time and patience.

Comments

  1. #1 Tony P
    April 7, 2009

    I’m willing to give Obama the benefit of the doubt because I know there are machinations in place to bring us all in agreement.

    That said I also know that if the Republicans keep playing the obstructionist game vis a vis the OLC nomination, they can pretty much assure they’ll lose come the 2010 election cycle.

  2. #2 Coturnix
    April 7, 2009

    If Obama manages to a) persuade people that his ideas are good, b) manages to turn his proposals into laws and c) the new laws make life easier and better for many people, then d) all the GOP obstructionists in Congress will have to do a lot of explaining to the voters come next election cycle. I have written about this before – Obama is getting sane Republicans on board, and letting the extremist dumbasses to marginalize themselves. Then, by opening the new channels of communication – direct between administration and people, bypassing The Village press – we will end up with a new two-party system: one party is whoever is at helm of the government and the other party (opposition or not, depends on the issue at hand) is the rest of us. Not Dems vs. Reps any more, as GOP is on its way out of history.

  3. #3 maxam
    April 9, 2009

    Problem is that this study is coming at a time of the rewriting of the social contract without doing the cognitive/behavioral analysis of the ‘best and the brightest’ who have gotten us here! For example they say ‘we’re addicted to oil’ without pointing to the industry leaders of monopoly capitalism that made our choices for us. To me this is priming the host for further parasitic feeding.

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