‘The Chemistry of Politics’ is an ongoing blog series by biological anthropologist and chief scientific advisor to Chemistry.com, Dr. Helen Fisher. Her research is based off of the Chemistry.com personality test, taken by over 10 million people worldwide.
What do you get when you cross a polling booth with a young, white, high school educated single mom who rents her home, drives a Chevy, has one (or two) low paying jobs, likes rosé wine, Diet Sierra Mist, fashion and Starbucks, watches daytime soaps, avoids books, politics and the gym, doesn’t travel much, (or check email much), loves horror movies and comedies, shops at Banana Republic and Whole Foods, pays with cash, packs a lunch and loves to clean the house? As Crowdverb and Civic Science tell us, you’d have the typical Undecided Voter.
Welcome to the world of the blue-collar woman, the individual who may chose our next president—if she votes at all. Most rarely do.
Why can’t these people make up their minds? Pollsters have been tracking their lifestyles, habits and preferences for weeks to solve this puzzle. But I think their reticence stems less from their taste for Diet Sierra Mist than from their biology. If these Undecided Voters were to take my personality test on Chemistry.com, I suspect they would be largely a mix of two biologically-based styles of thinking and behaving: the Negotiator and the Builder: individuals largely expressive respectively of both the estrogen and serotonin systems in the brain.
A primary trait of the Negotiator is the inability to decide, due in part, to estrogen. As fetal estrogen floods the developing brain in the womb, tiny nerve tendrils connect distant brain regions. As a result, Negotiators have a well-connected mind; they collect more data as they think and see more options and outcomes to any issue— what I call “web thinking.” Then they ruminate; swamped with options, they can’t decide. As most of these Undecided Voters don’t follow politics, it’s likely that they are swamped instead by the intricacies of their daily lives, rendering them even more indecisive on a less personally pressing issue: the presidency.
Undecided Voters also display several traits of the Builder, traits linked with the serotonin system. Builders tend to have less education, a trait of Undecided Voters. Builders also explore less, because they like the familiar, and Undecided Voters tend to avoid books, travel and new forms of media in favor of the customary. Moreover, Builders like order, and Undecided Voters like to clean. Most important, Builders are cautious, a likely hallmark of the Undecided Voter.
Millions of dollars are being spent on the 7-10% of Americans known as Undecided Voters, but I suspect all this money is facing a far stronger force: brain chemistry. Undecided Voters are, by nature, indecisive and cautious. What will they do on November 6th? Some may remain undecided–and not show up. Some will respond to the last ad or friend they saw. But most will vote as Negotiators do: with their hearts. And the heart is a secret place.
No wonder these are such nail-biting, pre-election days.