I saw Elizabeth Warren on the MSNBC town hall hosted by All In’s Chris Hayes in Ft. Wayne, Indiana. It aired on Thursday 6 June. I was very impressed by what I saw. If you haven’t seen it, follow the link to the entire episode. I’ve embedded a specific clip later in the post. Also, full disclosure: I’m a big Elizabeth Warren fan.
After watching her in action, I got to thinking about how emotional expression affects perceptions, which has been a theme of the past several blog posts. One of the reasons that emotional expression is important is that it is viewed as honest. If you express an emotion, it is taken as true representation of your inner self in part because you don’t analyze it too deeply. You accept it. Emotional communication is less explicit than verbal. The attributes you make based off of emotions are implicit. You don’t even realize you’ve made them based on an emotional communication. All you know is your conclusion.
The Town Hall
One of the most striking features of Warren’s presentation is her passion. She has conviction. She is not going to test the waters and go where the polling takes her. She’s going to tell you what she thinks and why she thinks it. And, because of her straightforwardness, she comes off as honest and sincere.
Watch this excerpt where she discusses her views on abortion if you haven’t already. It is amazing. Her passion shows clearly, but she isn’t angry. She’s confident.
I loved the way tears begin to well-up in her eyes as she’s talking about how the Hyde Amendment has its greatest effects on poor women on Medicaid. She feels their pain. She feels the injustice. You can’t help but feel it with her.
The Myth of Likeability
Studies suggest that sadness communicates warmth and compassion. People like those who are showing sadness. They don’t necessarily vote for them, but they like them. I’m guessing that this means that people who see Warren in that clip come away liking her. So score Warren for overcoming one of the hurdles that Clinton could not in 2016: the likeability issue.
Likeability isn’t enough to get her elected. As previous posts have pointed out, likeability does not drive voting. Perceptions of competency drive voting. People vote for those that they perceive as competent.
Anger and Pride: Men’s Emotions
Everybody knows that emotions are divvied up by gender. In fact, the only two emotions that people think men express more openly and more often than women are anger and pride. Everything else is the province of women. Everybody also knows that we have gender roles: men are leaders, women are followers. We have plenty of role models for different sorts of male presidential candidates, but we have only one for women.
As reported before when white men are angry, they are seen as competent. When a male politician is angry, people think he’s competent; they may not like him, but they think he’ll make a good leader; and they’ll vote for him. When he’s sad, they like him, but they are not more inclined to vote for him.
Women’s Anger and Social Norms
When a woman is angry, though, she is not seen as more competent. She is not afforded a higher social status. Her status is lowered because she is seen as violating those social norms — the unwritten rules for how we’re supposed to behave in a given situation.
Norms allow us to predict behavior. When we predict accurately, we get a little shot of dopamine rattling around the mesolimbic dopamine reward circuit. It makes us happy, and we want to do it again! When we get it wrong, we don’t like it, and we look for someone to blame.
When a woman is angry, she is violating a social norm. Viewers were not able to predict her anger, so who do they blame? That’s right, they blame her. She’s angry because she’s a bitch. Not because there is some legitimate reason to be angry, but because she’s a castrating femi-nazi out to turn our daughters into lesbians and kill every last living and dead man in the world.
Inherent Advantages of Warren
I think Warren’s candidacy has several inherent advantages stemming from how we view emotional expression. She gets angry, usually during Senate hearings when she is handing the ass to some administration lackey, so she has a clear external reason for it. Studies have shown that if an angry woman has a visible situational reason for being angry, then the negative consequences of her display are blunted.
Also, I find her mannish. Don’t kill me for saying that. She is tall and slim. She keeps her hair cut short. She wears pants and a jacket a lot. Her signature black top and pants covered by a bright jacket is a good look for her. I know that talking about a woman’s appearance isn’t fair because we don’t subject men to the same scrutiny, but it is still an area that every female candidate has to navigate. Warren is doing a great job with balancing her femininity and her professional attire.
Her passion, I think, although I don’t have any real support for it, communicates authenticity and competence. Passionate belief clearly articulated probably is the best way for women to achieve the perception of competence.
Warren has one more positive that none of the other candidates male or female can touch her on: her command of policy detail. She is prepared. She knows the issues. She knows both sides of the issues. She can argue the Repube side of any issue better than the best Repube can. And, she can communicate it succinctly and clearly.
Put it all together and she comes off as competent and optimistic. She has energy. She can seize the room and connect with individuals. Just watch her in that town hall. She talks directly to individual people. She calls them by name. She looks them in the eye. They believe that she has heard them and is answering their specific concerns. That is a powerful ability similar to one that Bill Clinton had. And, because of mirror neurons, when you see her connecting with someone, you are feeling connected with, too.
And with that, she can win elections.