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[This Just In]

Sinister sandman


Chances are President George W. Bush isn’t sleeping too soundly these days — and not necessarily because of job-performance jitters. A recent dream survey has found that card-carrying members of the Republican Party — such as Mr. Bush — are almost three times as likely as their Democratic counterparts to have nightmares.

Kelly Bulkeley, the California-based dream researcher who unveiled his survey at the Association for the Study of Dreams’ annual conference earlier this month, didn’t know what to expect when he set out to explore the possible link between dreaming and political ideology. But his detailed analysis of the nightly visions of 56 male and female registered voters — a group containing an equal number of self-described conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats — has produced some striking results. Not only did people who lean toward the right have many more nightmares, but their bad dreams were also far more likely to be of the heart-pounding, wake-up-drenched-in-sweat variety.

" Their dreams could be characterized by fear, aggression, misfortune, " explains Bulkeley, who teaches dream analysis and research at Santa Clara University. " Bad things would often happen to them out of the blue. " One Republican man, for instance, dreamed of spotting a dear friend’s name written on a tombstone, which startled him awake. Another had a dream about losing fistfuls of hair. Several Republican women even dreamed of seeing their fathers suddenly murdered.

On the contrary, left-leaning types tended to experience what Bulkeley describes as " bizarre and fanciful " dreams filled with zany characters, creatures, and flying feats. Democrats did have nightmares, but " they weren’t nearly as nightmarish. They had elements of hope and possibility. " When one Democratic woman envisioned her father’s murder, for example, she saw herself dialing 911. Her dream ended after her father had magically returned to life.

For people on the left, Bulkeley says, " the fear was not so overwhelming that they were catapulted out of the dream, as with people on the right. "

Though he stresses that his small sample does not represent the " definitive word " on dreaming and political ideology, he does suggest several interpretations. Republicans may be viewed as more anxious, insecure, and troubled by internal conflict, while Democrats are creative and strive to envision new possibilities. Of course, says Bulkeley, this characterization " fits how people on the left think of themselves. " He points out: " They are reformers who look at people on the right as being close-minded and restricted. "

On the other hand, the dreams may indicate that Republicans are more attuned to the world’s dangers and are focused on protecting themselves, while Democrats exhibit a head-in-the-clouds naïveté — which is what die-hard Republicans like to say about bleeding-heart liberals.

Even if President Bush’s dreams jolt him awake in the middle of the night, we probably need not worry. Nightmares, Bulkeley explains, serve a valuable purpose in helping alert people to " the threats of the waking world. " " While asleep, " he says, " we’re rehearsing what we’re going to do if these dangers occur. "

Nightmares, in other words, might be the best thing for Bush yet.


Issue Date: July 26 - August 2, 2001