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Psychological advice for undecided voters and political strategists

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    Oct. 25, 2012: Voters cast their votes through absentee ballots for the Nov. 6th election at the town hall in Cape Elizabeth, Maine.AP

Dave or Harry, Jane or Courtney? Most men and women are familiar with such dilemmas of choice in the dating and mating game, but some similar principles actually apply when voting for a president.

As the current “horse race” to the finish line for the presidency heats up, and a plethora of political pundits and party strategists have weighed in, undecided voters and strategists can gain from psychologists’ advice derived from dating, communication and brain style theory. Such tips can help political advisers hone their candidates’ message and appearance for the critical remaining ads, events and stump speeches, and help undecided voters resolve their confusion.

Prevailing confusion over the important question of  whom do I want in my life for the next four years -- Obama or Romney – is consistent with the social psychology theory of “double approach avoidance” conflicts where the two alternatives have both positive and negative features. 

In dating, potential partner Dave may be handsome but doesn’t have a job while Harry is average looking but earns a good income. Similarly, Obama hasn’t drastically decreased unemployment but says he is against special privileges for the rich, and Romney may appear to favor the rich but promises jobs for average Joe.

Deciding which candidate tells the truth more often can get you out of the gridlock.

For the brain to exit the mental mess, one technique I’ve advised to thousands of men and women in relationships is to make your own balance sheets to clearly see the positives and negatives. Put one person’s name at the top of one page and the other person’s name on the top of another page. Divide each page into two columns, headed “Pros” and “Cons” and fill in the lists, considering important issues like handling money, raising children, where to live, and having sex. 

For the election, do the same for the presidential candidates. Make separate pages for President Obama and one for Governor Romney and list your pros and cons on their stands on major topics, like jobs, taxes, mortgage rates, health insurance, national security, and positions on international relations with countries like Israel, China and Iran. 

Highlight the pros you consider most important, and the cons you consider “deal breakers,” meaning you absolutely cannot accept that position. 

Look over your list,’ the one with the more “pros” and fewer “cons” and dealbreakers, is more likely your man. Talk through your pros and cons with a friend to further help clarify your thinking.

In another technique, like many assessments outlined in my book “The Complete Idiots Guide to A Healthy Relationship,” take another sheet of paper and make one column for Romney and one column for Obama. On the left side, list qualities you most value in a leader (like a list you would make for choosing a mate), .e.g., tells the truth, is strong, calm, in control, responsible, makes wise decisions, keeps promises, will keep me safe, appears presidential. Give each candidate a number from 0-10, with 0 being the lowest score for that candidate and 10 being the highest score. Add the numbers and see who got your highest score.

Such a list can help people who currently don’t like either candidate. Those stuck in such an “avoidance-avoidance” conflict, like my friend’s mother, are thinking about voting for “the lesser of two evils.” I advise these folks to clearly identify a trait that matters most to them in life and in this race, e.g., honesty, a quality that tops appeal in relationships according to many surveys. Deciding which candidate tells the truth more often can get you out of the gridlock.

Finally, after clarifying the facts, examine your feelings towards each choice. What does your gut tell you? My TV repairman told me that since he can’t figure out what the candidates are arguing about, “I’ll go with my gut.” Bottom line: trust your intuition.

Dr. Judy Kuriansky is an internationally known clinical psychology affiliated with Columbia University Teachers College, a Fellow of the American Psychological Association, and an NGO representative at the United Nations. She has helped survivors after innumerable natural disasters, including Hurricanes Hugo and Katrina, and earthquakes in China, Haiti and Japan. Her recently released book isLiving in an Environmentally Traumatized World: Healing Ourselves and our Planet”(Praeger, 2012).  For more visit www.DrJudy.com.