Single Women and the US Women’s Movement: Insights from India
Link Roundup

American Dreamers: Analyzing Dreams of Hillary and Barack

by Kelly Bulkeley

AmericandreamersAs of today a total of 116 dream reports about Barack Obama and 104 about Hillary Clinton have been posted on the website. Here are some of the questions I've heard people asking about these intriguing political fables from the nocturnal imagination.

Can we accept these as real dreams? Cautiously, yes. Some of the reports could easily be fake, but most sound genuine to me. (For more on the limitations of this kind of anecdotal data, see my posting of March 19.)

Why are so many people having dreams of Hillary and Barack? It's turning into a perfect storm of political dreaming. First, the core supporters of both candidates (older white women for Hillary, multicultural youth for Barack) tend to be especially active dreamers--they are exactly the kinds of people who show up most often in dream classes and workshops, and I think it's natural their political hopes and fears would find expression in their dreams.  Second, many Democrats are genuinely torn in both directions, and one thing we know from modern dream research is that people often experience an upsurge of dreaming during times of uncertainty and indecision. And third, the feverish campaign coverage by the 24-hour news media has prompted unusually intense feelings of familiarity and intimacy with the candidates' personal lives, to the point where we hear and think and talk about them almost non-stop. In this kind of cultural environment, it would be surprising if we did not find at least some people dreaming about these omnipresent figures in the public eye.

So what exactly can we learn from these dreams? Without a doubt, the Hillary and Barack dreams highlight the powerful interpersonal bonds each candidate has formed with his or her supporters. There's a good psychological reason why the electoral race is so close--both candidates are backed by passionately committed people whose dreams accurately reflect the emotional depths of their political convictions.  Here’s one of the positive Hillary dreams:

"Hillary Clinton and I were cleaning my parents' attic. She was actually a lot of fun, and we got a lot of work done."

(Posted Feb. 19 by A Wife And Mother Who Scrapbooks)

This is a neat little parable of Hillary's candidacy--she's more likeable than you might expect, and she's going to work hard to clean up the mess left by the previous administration.

More surprising, perhaps, is how the dreams also point to the personality flaws and psychological shadows of the candidates. For Hillary, this appears in dreams of her behaving angrily and aggressively. An example:

"I was Hillary Clinton's personal assistant and I was miserable, partially because we were working non-stop on little sleep, but also because she was a tyrant. It was about three in the morning after a rally. She yelled at me in front of a group of people for a small mix-up I had nothing to do with."

(Posted on Feb. 25 by A Woman Who Once Worked As An Assistant)

In at least six reports, the dreamer does not like or support Hillary but feels compelled to lie to her about it:

"I was at a Kmart and Hillary was speaking to a small crowd. I began feeling really sorry for her and hugged her. Hillary asked me if I had voted for her. I hesitated and then said Yes, even though I hadn't."

(Posted on Feb. 27 by A Middle-Aged Woman)

Dreams like these suggest a perception of Hillary Clinton as strong and powerful but prone to using coercion and emotional manipulation to get her way.

The positive dreams of Barack are more numerous and more intense than those of Hillary, with what appears to be a higher percentage of good fortunes and magical events:

"I had such a great dream last night. Barack Obama came to my church and gave a speech. I don't remember what he said, just that he was very eloquent. Afterwards he and his wife were standing near the doors, shaking hands. I went up to shake his hand and I was so nervous! He was like 8 feet tall in my dream, but when I reached out to take his hand he gave me the sweetest smile."

(Posted Feb. 19 by A Unitarian Universalist and Mom)

The negative dreams of Barack point to the flip side of this giddy idealization: the potential for disappointment. Quite a few of the Barack dreams leave the dreamer feeling unhappy, detached, and disillusioned--they want to stay close to him, they love being part of his wonderful movement, but they fear it can't last:

"...He had been very nice to me on the run, when I felt I had him to myself, but then he became more interested in what was going on in the room and he ignored me. I felt hurt because of this and started to write him off, feeling that he wasn't who he said he was..."

(Posted Feb. 28 by A Student of Rhetoric in Louisiana)

The warning that comes through in these dreams is that the higher the hopes you inspire, the more likely you are to disappoint those who have idealized your candidacy.

I'm still working on a more systematic evaluation of the dreams using word search and content analysis methods, and I’ll report on my findings as they emerge. In the next posting I'll take a look at the more salacious aspects of the dreams--Sex! Drugs! Violent death! Celebrity cameos!--all the topics that give dreams such a good, wholesome reputation.

Wait a minute—Do you have some kind of political bias that's influencing your interpretations? Who do you support between Hillary and Barack? I was raised in a Republican family and became a Libertarian in college; I'm now a registered Democrat with Green Party leanings, and a strong Obama supporter. I don't claim any special objectivity in my analysis of the dream reports, but I'm confident of my findings and I invite others to take a look at the dreams for themselves. Every dream has multiple dimensions of meaning, and if you see something I've missed, feel free to tell me about it.

Dr. Kelly Bulkeley, author of American Dreamers: What Dreams Tell Us about the Political Psychology of Conservatives, Liberals, and Everyone Else, is a visiting scholar at the Graduate Theological Union and a faculty member in the dream studies program at John F. Kennedy University. A former president of the International Association for the Study of Dreams, his other books include Dreaming Beyond Death: A Guide to Pre-Death Dreams and Visions, Dreams: A Reader on the Religious, Cultural, and Psychological Dimensions of Dreaming; Dreams of Healing: Transforming Nightmares into Visions of Hope; and The Wondering Brain: Thinking about Religion with and beyond Cognitive Neuroscience.

Read Kelly Bulkeley's introductory post to this project and his call for Americans to get more sleep.