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Wednesday, 11 July, 2001, 11:40 GMT 12:40 UK
What dreams say about your politics

As the UK Tory leadership race becomes more like a nightmare for the contenders, a study finds that people on the right are more likely to have bad dreams, writes BBC News Online's Megan Lane.

How do you suppose the five men jockeying for the top job in the Conservative Party slept last night after the first round of balloting?

It can hardly have been an easy night. Instead of one, there were two losers. The supposed frontrunners made a disappointing showing. And now the whole palaver has to be repeated again.

Scary Movie
Scared yet?
All in all, somewhat of a nightmare for the Tories. But Messrs Portillo, Clarke, et al, may not be alone as they toss and turn. According to an American dream researcher, people on the right are almost three times as likely as those on the left to suffer nightmares.

Kelly Bulkeley, who presents his findings to a dream research conference in the United States on Wednesday, has found that not only do conservatives have more nightmares, their dreams are much scarier.

Fear and loathing

He analysed the dreams of 56 university students over the past four years, and found striking contrasts between liberals and conservatives.

People on the right are more attuned to the dangers in the world

Kelly Bulkeley
Half of the dreams of the Republicans he surveyed were nightmares, compared with 18% of the Democrats' dreams.

Mr Bulkeley puts this down to people on the right being more anxious about perceived dangers, and seeking ways to defend themselves. This state of mind, in turn, informs their politics.

"People on the right are more attuned to the dangers in the world," he says. "They're drawn to a political ideology that favours things like a strong military and traditional moral values."

People on the left had more family members in their dreams, more friendly social interactions, and more bizarre images.

Those on the right tended to dream about friends rather than family members, and imagined more aggressive acts and misfortunes.

Be more caring

British dream researcher David Melbourne says although he doesn't hold with Mr Bulkeley's speculation on political ideology, he does agree that those more likely to have nightmares share character traits.

Bad dreams
Being attacked
Scared of someone or something
Sinister presence nearby
Running late and feeling frustrated
It's estimated that more than a million people in the UK have at least two nightmares a week.

According to a study by Mr Melbourne's collaborator, psychologist Keith Hearne, bad dreamers are more likely to be affected by their feelings, and tend to be apprehensive, tense and self-sufficient.

Mr Melbourne says nightmares serve to call our attention to some aspect of our character that needs attention.

"People who tend to be more right wing are more likely to be the enterprising 'I'm all right, Jack' types favoured by Margaret Thatcher.

"So it would make sense in terms of people whose subconscious is trying to tell them to be more sharing, more left wing in a sense."

Dreaming of hanging chads

In a separate study, Mr Bulkeley found that last November's election night was one of the most troubled sleeps in US history - hardly surprising, given the chaos of that close-run battle.

counting chads
Bad dream: The Florida recount
Of the more than 100 political dreams reported to him, most were from Democrats and most were more nightmarish than during the 1992 and '96 presidential elections.

One man imagined George W Bush and Al Gore as pit bulls going at one another while Green Party candidate Ralph Nader walked off into the sunset.

Perhaps the Tory faithful are wracked by similar dreams as their party struggles to find a successor to William Hague. Hmmm... Michael Portillo and Ken Clarke as pit bulls, anyone?

Your comments:

I was in a swimming pool and Robin Cook came in in these tiny Speedos and drank all the swimming pool water. Everyone was really shouting at him, and he started crying, and he cried so much that the swimming pool filled up again.
Stuart Heritage, UK

I once dreamt Jack Straw was chasing me and my friends with a giant joint, attempting to burn us. Maybe he dreams of young scallywags chasing him with right-wing mantra?
Henry Coleman, UK

I dreamt an entire Scottish Parliamentary by-election. I saw BBC coverage of it, and the two leading candidates were MSPs I happen to know, one Tory and one SNP. The Tory, Ben Wallace, won. I even remember commiserating with the losing candidate. I made the mistake of telling my girlfriend, and any hope of persuading her that I'm not a mad political obsessive is now lost!
James Mackenzie, Scotland

My political views are predominantly right-wing and I think I've had one bad dream in the past four years. I have the advantage of being a "lucid dreamer" so my dreams rarely if ever present me with a situation I cannot resolve during the dream.
John B, UK

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10 Jul 01 | UK Politics
Dead heat forces Tory poll re-run
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