Are the two major political parties hosting primaries this winter? Or is it just the Democrats? Viewers who saw Monday's edition of "Good Morning America" might assume the latter. The ABC program devoted a lopsided 14 minutes and 56 seconds to breaking down the race between Democrats Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. A scant 31 seconds were given to the competitive Republican race.
Over the course of the two hour program, GMA featured four segments on the Democrats and only a solitary (and brief) piece on the GOP contest. This included co-host Diane Sawyer interviewing Barack Obama twice. ABC anchor and former Bill Clinton operative George Stephanopoulos talked to Senator Hillary Clinton. Kate Snow discussed the state of the New York senator's White House bid. Aside from mentioning the latest GOP polls in the show's intro, the only analysis of the Republicans resulted from Sawyer asking Stephanopoulos this banal question: "And what about the Republicans?" The conversation that followed lasted 31 seconds.
Now, this might have been understandable in 2004 when President George W. Bush ran unopposed for his party's nomination. But in 2008, with a wide open race, it's rather amazing that ABC would focus on the Democrats by a margin of 28 to one.
There was one additional segment on the presidential campaign. But since it related to the general subject of the human brain and how people make political decisions, I did not include it in the time count. However, the tone of the piece did follow GMA's template of emphasizing Democrats over Republcians. In the segment, correspondent Claire Shipman looked at a new company that claims to be able to be able to discern what Americans really think about a politician, based on chemical reactions in the brain.
As ABC has repeatedly done in the past, Shipman speculated over whether this would show whether voters will "really pull the lever for a woman, an African-American." At the close of the piece, the network journalist admitted, "Now, we didn't have any indication from our group that they would hesitate to support a woman or an African-American. Of course, we only spent an afternoon with them."
A transcript of segment on voting and the brain, which aired at 7:44am on January 7, follows:
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Probably the trickiest job of a presidential campaign is to get in touch with what people really think. And we all know that campaigns spend millions on polls and focus groups. But, Diane, now there's a new tool, neuroscience.
DIANE SAWYER: And it turns out that we all lie not only to campaign polls but to ourselves.
STEPHANOPOULOS: To ourselves. Right. Absolutely.
SAWYER: Because we say we're thinking about politics, but we're actually thinking about somebody's hair. And now, to tell us a little bit about the new neuroscience of all of this, let's go back to the Manchester Red Arrow diner because Claire Shipman has the story.
CLAIRE SHIPMAN: Good morning, guys. This new technology is incredible. And it might really be able to answer that burning question, do people tell pollsters the truth, or do they say one thing on the phone and then go to the voting booth and do something totally different? Would they really pull the lever for a woman, an African-American, well. Now, you can go straight to the source to find out. This is your brain on politics. Red at the back of the head, you like what you're hearing. It's pure unadulterated feeling. Information that makes advertisers and political consultants drool. Welcome to the next frontier in political polling. We teamed up with up with Lucid Systems, a cutting edge marketing research company to try out their brain measuring techniques. Our guinea pigs, a group of undecided New Hampshire voters watches the ABC debate. Here where Hillary Clinton got worked up.
SENATOR HILLARY CLINTON: I want to make change, but I've already made change!
SHIPMAN: How did people respond to that? But we didn't have to ask, we'd read their minds. The brain information here in graph style. And waves in the green line below the red one means they liked it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As a president, you want someone who is tough.
SHIPMAN: And the humor worked.
CLINTON: Well, that hurts my feelings.
SHIPMAN: A green spike. But this --
SENATOR BARACK OBAMA: You're likable enough, Hillary.
SHIPMAN: It had a huge negative response. The twin red and green peeks. Our group wasn't aware how much they didn't like him ruining her fun.
JEAN TAYLOR (Undecided New Hampshire voter): It just says Barack doesn't really like her very much.
SHIPMAN: Another surprising result, when asked they praised this --
JOHN EDWARDS: We need a president who believes deeply in here. [Pounds chest]
EFFI SORRENTINO (Undecided New Hampshire voter): You could really see that he felt very, very strongly.
SHIPMAN: But in fact, it flat lined. They weren't emotionally moved. And once told the results, they dug deeper.
CARLA TOLOMEO (Unidentified New Hampshire voter): And for me, the fact that they was using emotional words was very nice, but, again, how did that translate into an action.
SHIPMAN: Lucid liked to call it the unspoken truth.
DR. FERNANDO MIRANDA (Founder & Chief Science Officer, Lucid Systems): As we grow up and we learn to be politically correct and we learn to use judgment, we learn to say the appropriate things, then all these other layers are uncovering the unspoken truth.
SHIPMAN: For example, some say they were okay with the candidates mixing it up.
BOB TRABUCHI (Undecided New Hampshire voter): Kind of like around a lunch table or something. Where people are going to interrupt each other and they're having a spirited discussion.
MITT ROMNEY: Don't try and characterize my position. Of course this war --
MIKE HUCKABEE: Which one?
SHIPMAN: But, again, this double red and green peak shows their brains don't like barbs. Lucid used different equipment, a cap with electrodes, to monitor brain activity as our as group looked at pictures of candidates. One undecided voter insisted that he likes John McCain and Barack Obama equally. Check out his brain as he looked at a picture of Obama. More red means a more positive feeling.
STEPHEN GENCO (Founder/CEO, Lucid Systems): Come election day that kind of emotional feel when he has to make a decision will probably weigh fairly heavily in the decision.
SHIPMAN: Now, we didn't have any indication from our group that they would hesitate to support a woman or an African-American. Of course, we only spent an afternoon with them. But one other thing we learned and listen up political operatives, all of those ads, especially the ones that invoked fear, talked about terror, where opponents were attacking opponent, candidates were put, portrayed in negative terms, they flat lined or got a negative impression. So, spend your money differently, Diane and George.
STEPHANOPOULOS: There's something so interesting about this. This does confirm other political research. The problem was, people say they don't like these ads and they don't. They believe it. They mean it.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Yet, the information sticks.
SAWYER: It imbeds.