Americans' panic over sharks dates to July 1916, when man-eaters killed four bathers at the Jersey Shore.
"The New Jersey shark attacks sent a message to Americans," says Matt McCall in National Geographic. "They said the ocean is still wild."
The shark attacks took a bite out of hotel occupancy that July—and President Woodrow Wilson's vote-count when he stood for reelection four months later.
The former New Jersey governor lost 10 percent of the votes he expected everywhere an attack occurred.
When fear guides the lever, voters say "No."
It may be a stupid reaction to a horror show, but it isn't an irrational one.
It's instinctual, according to Rick Shenkman, author of Political Animals: How Our Brain Gets in the Way of Smart Politics.
Shenkman says our Pleistocene-era brains simply can't handle twenty-first-century politics.
“There’s a mismatch between the brains we inherited from the Stone Age, when mankind lived in small communities, and the brain we need to deal with challenges we face in a democratic society consisting of millions of people.”
When you're knee-deep in shark-infested waters, instinct kicks in.
Wily politicians know that, and exploit it.
They know higher-order thinking only takes place from the safety of the cave.