French women didn’t win the vote until 1945. A big part of the argument against their enfranchisement: they’d be overly influenced by the opinions of their priests. This was partly a matter of plain old French anti-clericalism. But it rested largely too upon the idea that women would vote with their hearts rather than their brains, that they’d make decisions of national importance for ignorant and emotional — rather than informed and logical — reasons, that they’d more likely choose positions that permitted them to maintain important relationships (in this case, with their beloved village priests) than risk rupture by venturing to have opinions that might cause conflict.
Feeling uncomfortable yet? Let’s fast-forward to America in 2012. Given that the country is so evenly divided between die-hard Democrats and Republicans, this election, as we all know, is going to rest on a small percentage of undecided voters — people who didn’t watch the debates and haven’t closely followed campaign coverage. These are people who seem to relate to the big issues of the day in the smallest, most personal ways. As in: What candidate do they like? What candidate do they “trust”? People who seem disproportionately swayed by the relationships they establish in their minds with our leading candidates in areas like trust, likeability, affability — as opposed to the candidates’ positions on issues. People who, often enough, don’t like all this conflictual political stuff anyway.This article was originally published in TIME.