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Who has the higher 'emotional intelligence', Julia or Tony?

By Chris Golis - posted Friday, 13 August 2010

One of my favourite books about politics is The Political Brain by Drew Westen. The book’s subheading is "How we make up our minds without using our heads" and Westen argues convincingly that it is the politician who can connect emotionally with the voter who will win. Many non-Americans found it difficult to believe how Bush beat both Gore and Kerry but Westen describes how Bush had much higher emotional intelligence (EQ) than either Democratic candidate.

In one Presidential debate Gore was using multiple statistics to prove a point. The Bush riposte was devastating: Bush: "Look, this is a man who has great numbers. He talks about numbers. I'm beginning to think not only did he invent the internet, but he invented the calculator. It's fuzzy math." Bush connected with most of the voters at that moment.

Similarly Bush managed to portray Kerry as a Massachusetts’ liberal with the emotional overtones of someone who was elitist, snobbish, and not a regular guy like us. Perhaps the greatest emotional triumph was when Bush and his team managed to convince the American public that Kerry was a flip-flopping coward when it was Bush who refused to fight in Vietnam and Kerry who won three Purple Hearts and the Silver Star for bravery in action.


Westen demonstrates in his book that people vote for the candidate who elicits the right feelings, not the candidate who presents the best arguments. Obama’s supporters were feverishly chanting “Yes, we can” while McCain’s were mumbling “Country first”.

So who has the higher EQ, Julia Gillard or Tony Abbott?

In terms of IQ, Julia appears definitely higher even though Tony Abbott is a Rhodes Scholar. However in EQ, Tony may be in front.

Julia is highly controlled and driven by a strong desire to win. In Humm (see box) terms, Julia is a Normal-Politician. This combination makes for a forceful leader and Julia has certainly demonstrated these qualities while she was Minister for Education. Her redeeming feature is her humorous honesty at laughing at herself.

On the other had she has had to make a number of sacrifices to reach the top. She has no family, and no one knows anything about her de facto partner except he is a hair-dresser. She is a self-confessed atheist and commendably frank about it. Julia appeals to the inner city feminists but in the outer-suburbs of the major cities, where the marginal seats are, families and religion (via the evangelical movement) are core emotional drivers.

Tony on the other hand has unbelievable energy and despite the campaign being run by the Labor party was a hard working and effective Government Minister. Many of the reforms he introduced were kept by the current Labor Government. Tony is a Mover-Engineer. He doesn’t have the self-control (high normal) of Julia and has a history of impulsively shooting from the hip but is learning to control it.


If you look at family and religion Tony wins handsomely. Tony’s ostentatiously uxorious family life sets a model and image that Labor can’t match. Mrs Abbott has joined her husband on the campaign trail and so have their three daughters. Tony is a fervent Catholic. Religion may not play well in the inner suburbs but no one criticises Tony’s beliefs in the outer suburbs; indeed they relate to them at a visceral level. Australia media commentators discuss religion vary rarely but for connecting emotionally it is a very powerful tool.

It is a paradox of politics that is that when it comes to winning hearts and minds, the party that views itself as the one with the heart (for the middle class, the poor, and the disenfranchised) which in Australia is Labor and in the USA, the Democrats so often continue to appeal exclusively to the mind. You see that with Gillard, trying to fight Abbott on the basis of which party is the better economic manager? Unfortunately she is appealing to the wrong part of the brain. Keating took a different tack and would continually maintain that you should vote for Labor because that was the party with heart.

On the other hand, Abbott is using more and more emotional language in his campaign. “Labor is a soap opera.”, “Labor is the party of waste.” At the same time he is projecting an image of stability and statesmanship. The transformation in six months has been astonishing.

When Tony was elected Leader of the Opposition, the media and most of the Labor party leaders were dismissive of his ability to be effective. Only Graham Richardson, perhaps Labor’s most formidable campaign strategist, took an opposite view warning that Abbott would unite the party behind him and be a formidable opponent. Graham is turning out to be correct.

The odds still favour Labor in that since Federation in 1900 only one government has been voted out after one term, but if Abbott does win, Westen’s hypothesis will be demonstrated again.

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About the Author

Chris Golis is Australia's expert on practical emotional intelligence. He is an author, professional speaker and workshop leader. His site is

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