The Psychology of Political Decisions

The Psychology of Political Decisions

Helping you make better political decisions by understanding the psychology of politics.

Introducing Emotions in Politics

Introduction

When it comes to emotions and decision-making, two philosophical perspectives from centuries ago have continued to have a strong influence on society and research. The first is René Descartes’ separation between the mind and body (admittedly, Descartes wasn’t the first to have this idea, but his works were highly influential).1Descartes, René. 1970 (1637). The Philosophical Works of Descartes. Vol. 1. Translated by Elizabeth S. Haldane and G. R. T. Ross. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. The second is Plato’s separation between and prioritization of a rational soul over a non-rational soul, with the rational part following careful deliberations and the non-rational soul indulging in emotions.2Plato. 2000. The Republic. Edited by G. R. F. Ferrari. Translated by Tom Griffith. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, pages 323-237. As it turns out, both ideas are wrong. The mind and body work as one in reaching decisions, and emotions are a necessary part of rationality.

Within the social sciences, we continue to see the influence of these ideas on theory. Owing in large part to the deep influence of economics on politics, many of the most prominent models of decision-making within political science have assumed that individuals are rational. Within economics and political science, the assumption that decisions are made as if people have “unlimited knowledge, time, and information-processing power” is a farcical fiction.3Bechara, Antoine and Antonio R. Damasio. 2005. “The Somatic Marker Hypothesis: A Neural Theory of Economic Decision.” Games and Economic Behavior 52 (2): 336-372. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.geb.2004.06.010, page 336. Even within the more psychologically inspired literature within these fields, researchers were ignoring a crucial component of decision-making: the role of emotions. Describing the psychologically focused research in international relations, scholar Jonathan Mercer argued that emotions were largely ignored because it was assumed that they were a consequence of decisions, but rarely their cause.4Mercer, Jonathan. 2006. “Human Nature and the First Image: Emotion in International Politics.” Journal of International Relations and Development.” 9 (3): 288-303. https://doi.org/10.1057/palgrave.jird.1800091, pages 291-293. When they were discussed, they were viewed as sources of mistakes and, only occasionally, as possibly rational.

Economists and political scientists can perhaps be forgiven for the omission of emotions. After all, until relatively recently, this also reflected the orthodoxy within psychology itself. However, two research programs in the last few decades have challenged these views and revolutionized how we view emotions in psychology and politics. We will review the somatic marker hypothesis and the appraisal tendency framework, and draw linkages to political decision-making.

Somatic Marker Hypothesis: Emotions Are Necessary for Rational Thought

Phineas Gage was a railroad worker in Vermont in the mid-1800s. While setting up explosives to clear room for new tracks, an accident launched an iron bar that “enters Gage’s left cheek, pierces the base of the skull, traverses the front of his brain, and exits at high speed through the top of the head.”5Damasio, Antonio R. 1994. Descartes’ Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain. New York: Penguin Books, page 4. Miraculously, Gage survives the explosion and makes a full recovery. Or so it seemed at first. Before the accident, he was described as intelligent, capable, and a hard worker. He had many friends and was well-liked by everyone around him. After his recovery, he was still intelligent. He could process information correctly, his memory remained intact, and there was no apparent loss in intelligence. But he was different. He could no longer maintain a job and his social relationships deteriorated. He had difficulty following social rules and norms.

Renowned neuroscientist Antonio Damasio describes similar changes in behavior in his patient Elliot following the removal of a sizable tumor from his brain.6Damasio, Antonio R. 1994. Descartes’ Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain. New York: Penguin Books, pages 34-51.7Eslinger, Paul J. and Antonio R. Damasio. 1985. “Severe Disturbance of Higher Cognition After Bilateral Frontal Lobe Ablation: Patient EVR.” Neurology 35 (12): 1731-1741. https://doi.org/10.1212/WNL.35.12.1731. Much like Phineas Gage, Elliot had been an intelligent, successful person before his tumor. He remained intelligent after the tumor and there was no decline in memory. However, Elliot had trouble making decisions. At work, for example, he could no longer manage a schedule. Whereas employees are generally able to allocate appropriate amounts of time to each assigned task, Elliot would obsessively stick to the same task for hours. Even with mundane tasks, “he might spend an entire afternoon deliberating on which principle of categorization should be applied.”8Damasio, Antonio R. 1994. Descartes’ Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain. New York: Penguin Books, page 36.

In both cases, damage affected the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC), an area of the brain that is crucial for decision-making).9Damasio, Antonio R. 1994. Descartes’ Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain. New York: Penguin Books, pages 32-33.10Bechara, Antoine and Antonio R. Damasio. 2005. “The Somatic Marker Hypothesis: A Neural Theory of Economic Decision.” Games and Economic Behavior 52 (2): 336-372. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.geb.2004.06.010, pages 337-338. People with damage to the vmPFC receive normal scores on tests of intelligence. However, they “develop severe impairments in personal and social decision-making.”11Bechara, Antoine and Antonio R. Damasio. 2005. “The Somatic Marker Hypothesis: A Neural Theory of Economic Decision.” Games and Economic Behavior 52 (2): 336-372. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.geb.2004.06.010, page 337. They have trouble planning tasks at work and at home, they have trouble maintaining positive social relationships, and their choices lead to financial, personal, and reputational losses. Simply put, they make decisions that are different than what they would have otherwise made, and these decisions are less advantageous. These problems are linked to their inability to “express emotion and experience feelings in appropriate situations.”12Bechara, Antoine and Antonio R. Damasio. 2005. “The Somatic Marker Hypothesis: A Neural Theory of Economic Decision.” Games and Economic Behavior 52 (2): 336-372. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.geb.2004.06.010, page 338.

Beneficial decision-making requires not only facts about the situation but also consideration of how the decision will affect the survival of the decision-maker and an understanding of the likely outcomes of each decision.13Damasio, Antonio R. 1994. Descartes’ Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain. New York: Penguin Books, pages 83-84.14Damasio, Antonio R. 1999. The Feeling of What Happens: Body and Emotion in the Making of Consciousness. New York: Harcourt.15Damasio, Antonio R. 2003. Looking for Spinoza: Joy, Sorrow, and the Feeling Brain. New York: Harcourt. Emotions play a crucial role in ensuring our survival. When we encounter a situation that we innately know or that we’ve learned can affect our survival or well-being, our body and brain work in tandem to prepare us to respond.16Damasio, Antonio R. 1994. Descartes’ Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain. New York: Penguin Books. We unconsciously develop a feeling about how we should react. If you encounter a rattlesnake on the path while hiking, your body and brain begin preparing you to respond before you’ve consciously realized that you’ve seen a snake. Even thinking about encountering a snake can produce feelings about what should be done. We don’t have to weigh all the options; our body and brain are already making us lean towards a particular decision.

While a snake is directly related to imminent survival, we also use emotions to navigate a multitude of social situations. Imagine a situation where your boss is making you extremely frustrated and angry. It probably isn’t a difficult scenario for most of you to imagine. While part of you might like to tell your boss exactly what you think of them, the thought of possible consequences will trigger negative emotional responses (somatic states) that will make you lean away from that choice. You might think about how your boss might yell at you, punish you, or even fire you. All these thoughts will trigger negative emotional responses that will help you make advantageous decisions (Note: Just in case my boss(es) are reading this, my body and brain are telling me that I should say that you are all wonderful.). Without these emotional cues, it doesn’t matter how much information you have about a situation, it will be difficult for you to make advantageous decisions.

Emotions also help us to learn from new situations.17Damasio, Antonio R. 1994. Descartes’ Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain. New York: Penguin Books.18Bechara, Antoine and Antonio R. Damasio. 2005. “The Somatic Marker Hypothesis: A Neural Theory of Economic Decision.” Games and Economic Behavior 52 (2): 336-372. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.geb.2004.06.010. When we are faced with a completely new situation, it is difficult for us to imagine the possible consequences. While we might be guided by some level of caution (new situations can lead to harm, so some degree of fear is a good idea) or excitement (we might feel hopeful if past new situations have produced unexpected rewards), this isn’t enough to necessarily guide us to the best decision. However, if we make a mistake, emotions help us to avoid mistakes in the future. We’ve all burned our hands touching a hot surface. It hurts. Thankfully, it isn’t a mistake that we generally make repeatedly. The thought of touching a hot surface produces reminders of the pain we felt and instinctually guides us away from making the mistake again.19Bechara, Antoine and Antonio R. Damasio. 2005. “The Somatic Marker Hypothesis: A Neural Theory of Economic Decision.” Games and Economic Behavior 52 (2): 336-372. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.geb.2004.06.010, page 340. Even if we lose the ability to feel pain, we still continue to avoid touching hot surfaces. We all make mistakes when we start a new job. It is part of the learning process. However, we automatically learn to associate certain behaviors with negative emotional outcomes (e.g., being corrected by our boss) and we avoid the mistakes again. However, someone who lacks the ability to process emotions will continue to repeatedly touch hot surfaces or make the same mistakes at work. Again, it isn’t a problem with intelligence; it is that they lack the automatic emotional guides that direct us toward advantageous decisions.

The somatic marker hypothesis shows us that emotions are not subordinate to rationality or an obstacle to rationality. Instead, emotions are a prerequisite for rationality. This doesn’t make them more or less important than conscious reasoning. It makes them an integral part of our decision-making processes along with other parts of our brain and body.

Appraisal Tendency Framework: Each Emotion Has a Distinct Effect on Decision-Making

Early work on emotions typically focused on whether an emotion was positive or negative. For example, anger, fear, and sadness are all negative emotions, so they would be expected to have similar effects on decision-making. This was problematic because it led researchers to underestimate the effects of emotions. While anger, fear, and sadness are all negative emotions, they have drastically different—sometimes opposite—impacts on decision-making.

The appraisal tendency framework was developed to examine how individual emotions affect decision-making.20Ellsworth, Phoebe C. and Craig A. Smith. 1988. “From Appraisal to Emotion: Differences Among Unpleasant Feelings.” Motivation and Emotion 12 (3): 271-302. https://psycnet.apa.org/doi/10.1007/BF00993115.21Keltner, Dacher, Phoebe C. Ellsworth, and Kari Edwards. 1993. “Beyond Simple Pessimism: Effects of Sadness and Anger on Social Perception.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 64 (5): 740-752. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-3514.64.5.740.22Lerner, Jennifer S., Roxana M. Gonzalez, Deborah A. Small, and Baruch Fischhoff. 2003. “Effects of Fear and Anger on Perceived Risks of Terrorism: A National Field Experiment.” Psychological Science 14 (2): 144-150. https://doi.org/10.1111/1467-9280.01433.23Lerner, Jennifer S. and Dacher Keltner. 2000. “Beyond Valence: Toward a Model of Emotion-Specific Influences on Judgment and Choice.” Cognition and Emotion 14 (4): 473-493. https://doi.org/10.1080/026999300402763.24Lerner, Jennifer S. and Dacher Keltner. 2001. “Fear, Anger, and Risk.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 81 (1): 146-159. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-3514.81.1.146.25Lerner, Jennifer S. and Larissa Z. Tiedens. 2006. “Portrait of the Angry Decision Maker: How Appraisal Tendencies Shape Anger’s Influence on Cognition.” Journal of Behavioral Decision Making 19 (2): 115-137. https://doi.org/10.1002/bdm.515.26Renshon, Jonathan, Jooa Julia Lee, and Dustin Tingley. 2015. “Physiological Arousal and Political Beliefs.” Political Psychology 36 (5): 569-585. https://doi.org/10.1111/pops.12173.27Smith, Craig A. and Phoebe C. Ellsworth. 1985. “Patterns of Cognitive Appraisal in Emotion.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 48 (4): 813-838. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-3514.48.4.813. According to the theory, each specific emotion is defined by a set of central cognitive dimensions.28Lerner, Jennifer S. and Dacher Keltner. 2000. “Beyond Valence: Toward a Model of Emotion-Specific Influences on Judgment and Choice.” Cognition and Emotion 14 (4): 473-493. https://doi.org/10.1080/026999300402763, page 477. These central dimensions are “certainty, pleasantness, attentional activity, control, anticipated effort, and responsibility.”29Lerner, Jennifer S. and Dacher Keltner. 2000. “Beyond Valence: Toward a Model of Emotion-Specific Influences on Judgment and Choice.” Cognition and Emotion 14 (4): 473-493. https://doi.org/10.1080/026999300402763, page 476. A brief description of each is included:

  • certainty: whether future events are predictable and comprehensible,
  • pleasantness: whether the person feels pleasure,
  • attentional activity: whether an event draws or repels your attention,
  • control: whether the event is perceived to be under human control,
  • anticipated effort: how much effort is required to address the issue, and
  • responsibility: whether it is you or someone else who is responsible for the event.

These cognitive dimensions direct judgments and decisions to address the event that provoked the emotion. They point to adaptive responses to the situation. They also influence how future events will be perceived, even if the emotion is no longer relevant.30Lerner, Jennifer S. and Dacher Keltner. 2000. “Beyond Valence: Toward a Model of Emotion-Specific Influences on Judgment and Choice.” Cognition and Emotion 14 (4): 473-493. https://doi.org/10.1080/026999300402763.31Lerner, Jennifer S. and Dacher Keltner. 2001. “Fear, Anger, and Risk.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 81 (1): 146-159. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-3514.81.1.146.32Lerner, Jennifer S., Ye Li, Piercarlo Valdesolo, and Karim S. Kassam. 2015. “Emotion and Decision Making.” Annual Review of Psychology 66: 799-823. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev-psych-010213-115043.

For example, pride and surprise—both positive emotions—differ on certainty and responsibility.33Lerner, Jennifer S. and Dacher Keltner. 2000. “Beyond Valence: Toward a Model of Emotion-Specific Influences on Judgment and Choice.” Cognition and Emotion 14 (4): 473-493. https://doi.org/10.1080/026999300402763, page 478-479.34Smith, Craig A. and Phoebe C. Ellsworth. 1985. “Patterns of Cognitive Appraisal in Emotion.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 48 (4): 813-838. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-3514.48.4.813. With pride, a person believes that the event was at least moderately predictable (medium certainty) and that they are responsible for the outcome (low responsibility). Conversely, someone experiencing surprise will believe that events are unpredictable (low certainty) and that others are responsible for the outcome (high responsibility). Pride and surprise will lead to different causal attributions—assigning a cause to an event—and produce different decisions in response.

Anger and fear are both negative emotions, but they differ on the dimensions of certainty, anticipated effort, control, and responsibility.35Lerner, Jennifer S. and Dacher Keltner. 2000. “Beyond Valence: Toward a Model of Emotion-Specific Influences on Judgment and Choice.” Cognition and Emotion 14 (4): 473-493. https://doi.org/10.1080/026999300402763, page 478-479.36Lerner, Jennifer S. and Dacher Keltner. 2001. “Fear, Anger, and Risk.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 81 (1): 146-159. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-3514.81.1.146.37Smith, Craig A. and Phoebe C. Ellsworth. 1985. “Patterns of Cognitive Appraisal in Emotion.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 48 (4): 813-838. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-3514.48.4.813. Anger is associated with a perception that negative events are predictable (high certainty), that moderate effort is required to address the situation (medium effort), that events are under human control (high control), and that others are responsible for outcomes (high responsibility). On the other hand, fear is associated with a belief that future negative events are unpredictable (low certainty), that a large effort is required to resolve the problem (high effort), that events are beyond the control of humans (low control), and that others have a moderate responsibility for outcomes (medium responsibility). As a result of the differences in appraisals, anger leads to a perception of a low-risk environment whereas fear leads to an assessment of a high-risk environment. These differences can produce substantive differences in policy preferences. For example, in response to terrorist attacks, fear leads to higher estimates of the probability of future attacks and greater support for precautionary measures.38Lerner, Jennifer S., Roxana M. Gonzalez, Deborah A. Small, and Baruch Fischhoff. 2003. “Effects of Fear and Anger on Perceived Risks of Terrorism: A National Field Experiment.” Psychological Science 14 (2): 144-150. https://doi.org/10.1111/1467-9280.01433. Those who experience anger have the opposite reaction.

A great deal of research has focused on the role of anxiety in politics. Anxiety is associated with a belief that future events are unpredictable (low certainty) and that people have low levels of control over events (low control).39Renshon, Jonathan, Jooa Julia Lee, and Dustin Tingley. 2015. “Physiological Arousal and Political Beliefs.” Political Psychology 36 (5): 569-585. https://doi.org/10.1111/pops.12173, page 572. In particular, research has found that anxiety is associated with anti-immigrant attitudes.40Brader, Ted, Nicholas Valentino, and Elizabeth Suhay. 2008. “What Triggers Public Opposition to Immigration? Anxiety, Group Cues, and Immigration Threat.” American Journal of Political Science 52 (4): 959-978. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1540-5907.2008.00353.x.41Gadarian, Shana Kushner and Bethany Albertson. 2014. “Anxiety, Immigration, and the Search for Information.” Political Psychology 35 (2): 133-164. https://doi.org/10.1111/pops.12034.42Renshon, Jonathan, Jooa Julia Lee, and Dustin Tingley. 2015. “Physiological Arousal and Political Beliefs.” Political Psychology 36 (5): 569-585. https://doi.org/10.1111/pops.12173. Research has also found that anxiety over terrorism reduces the support for aggressive military actions and increases support for isolationist foreign policies.43Huddy, Leonie, Stanley Feldman, Charles Taber, and Gallya Lahav. 2005. “Threat, Anxiety, and Support for Antiterrorism Policies.” American Journal of Political Science 49 (3): 593-608. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1540-5907.2005.00144.x. A growing body of research also focuses on the roles of anger, happiness, disgust, fear, and sadness on political judgments and decisions.

In research on the role of emotions in decision-making, a recurring theme has been the surprising finding that emotions produced in one situation can carry over to influence judgments and decisions that are completely unrelated to the original situation.

Emotions Carryover to Unrelated Decisions

The effect of emotions on unrelated judgments and decisions is variously referred to as carryover emotions, incidental emotions, and spillover emotions.44Forgas, Joseph P. 1995. “Mood and Judgment: The Affect Infusion Model (AIM).” Psychological Bulletin 117(1): 39-66. https://psycnet.apa.org/doi/10.1037/0033-2909.117.1.39.45Lerner, Jennifer S. and Dacher Keltner. 2000. “Beyond Valence: Toward a Model of Emotion-Specific Influences on Judgment and Choice.” Cognition and Emotion 14 (4): 473-493. https://doi.org/10.1080/026999300402763.46Lerner, Jennifer S. and Dacher Keltner. 2001. “Fear, Anger, and Risk.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 81 (1): 146-159. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-3514.81.1.146.47Lerner, Jennifer S., Deborah A. Small, and George Loewenstein. 2004. “Heart Strings and Purse Strings: Carryover Effects of Emotions on Economic Decisions.” Psychological Science 15 (5): 337-341. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.0956-7976.2004.00679.x.48Renshon, Jonathan, Jooa Julia Lee, and Dustin Tingley. 2015. “Physiological Arousal and Political Beliefs.” Political Psychology 36 (5): 569-585. https://doi.org/10.1111/pops.12173.49Schwarz, Norbert. 1990. “Feelings as Information: Informational and Motivational Functions of Affective States.” In Handbook of Motivation and Cognition: Foundations of Social Behavior, edited by E. Tory Higgins and Richard M. Sorrentino, 527-561. New York: The Guilford Press.50Schwarz, Norbert and Gerald L. Clore. 1983. “Mood, Misattribution, and Judgments of Well-Being: Informative and Directive Functions of Affective States.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 45 (3): 513-523. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-3514.45.3.513.51Small, Deborah A. and Jennifer S. Lerner. 2008. “Emotional Policy: Personal Sadness and Anger Shape Judgments About a Welfare Case.” Political Psychology 29 (2): 149-168. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-9221.2008.00621.x. While the somatic marker hypothesis demonstrates that emotions are crucial for rational decision-making, the influence of emotions on unrelated decisions can be disruptive.52Bechara, Antoine and Antonio R. Damasio. 2005. “The Somatic Marker Hypothesis: A Neural Theory of Economic Decision.” Games and Economic Behavior 52 (2): 336-372. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.geb.2004.06.010, pages 351-352. Take the example of driving. Emotions play an important role in successful driving. When you are considering speeding, your emotions tell you to slow down. Fear of an accident or of a speeding ticket will give you the feeling that you should reduce your speed, regardless of how late you are for work (or play). However, emotions that are unrelated to driving can be disruptive. Imagine a driver who just had a major fight. They are furious. Is it fear of an accident that is influencing their driving behavior or the anger that they continue to feel? Their fight might not have been with the driver in the next lane, but that driver might still be subjected to the carryover effects. Or imagine receiving a phone call about a loved one being taken to the hospital. You are likely to be feeling a lot of emotions during that phone call, and none of them are related to driving. The likelihood of an accident would increase drastically.

In research in political psychology, carryover emotions have been found to affect political judgments and decision-making in various ways. For example, research has shown that disgust and sadness affect economic decisions,53Lerner, Jennifer S., Deborah A. Small, and George Loewenstein. 2004. “Heart Strings and Purse Strings: Carryover Effects of Emotions on Economic Decisions.” Psychological Science 15 (5): 337-341. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.0956-7976.2004.00679.x. fear and anger affect future risk assessments,54Lerner, Jennifer S. and Dacher Keltner. 2000. “Beyond Valence: Toward a Model of Emotion-Specific Influences on Judgment and Choice.” Cognition and Emotion 14 (4): 473-493. https://doi.org/10.1080/026999300402763. anxiety affects anti-immigration attitudes,55Renshon, Jonathan, Jooa Julia Lee, and Dustin Tingley. 2015. “Physiological Arousal and Political Beliefs.” Political Psychology 36 (5): 569-585. https://doi.org/10.1111/pops.12173. sadness and anger affect support for welfare policies,56Small, Deborah A. and Jennifer S. Lerner. 2008. “Emotional Policy: Personal Sadness and Anger Shape Judgments About a Welfare Case.” Political Psychology 29 (2): 149-168. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-9221.2008.00621.x. fear and anger affect responses to terrorist attacks,57Lerner, Jennifer S., Roxana M. Gonzalez, Deborah A. Small, and Baruch Fischhoff. 2003. “Effects of Fear and Anger on Perceived Risks of Terrorism: A National Field Experiment.” Psychological Science 14 (2): 144-150. https://doi.org/10.1111/1467-9280.01433. and disgust affects support for health policies and attitudes towards racial minorities.58Georgarakis, George N. 2003. “Yikes! The Effect of Incidental Disgust and Information on Public Attitudes During the COVID-19 Pandemic.” Political Psychology 44 (3): 493-513. https://doi.org/10.1111/pops.12865. Perhaps my personal favorite among all of the findings is the impact of sporting wins and losses on political approval and voting.59Busby, Ethan C., James N. Druckman, and Alexandria Fredendall. 2016. “The Political Relevance of Irrelevant Events.” The Journal of Politics 79 (1): 346-350. https://www.journals.uchicago.edu/doi/full/10.1086/688585.60Healy, Andrew J., Neil Malhotra, and Cecilia Hyunjung Mo. 2010. “Irrelevant Events Affect Voters’ Evaluations of Government Performance.” PNAS 107 (29): 12804-12809. https://www.pnas.org/doi/abs/10.1073/pnas.1007420107.61Miller, Michael K. 2013. “For the Win! The Effect of Professional Sports Records on Mayoral Elections.” Social Science Quarterly 94 (1): 59-78. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1540-6237.2012.00898.x.

Research on carryover emotions remains a relatively new area of study within both psychology and political science. We should expect to see many new findings in the coming years.

Concluding Remarks: Emotions in Political Campaigns

Politicians have long understood the importance of emotions.62Brader, Ted. 2005. Campaigning for Hearts and Minds: How Emotional Appeals in Political Ads Work. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.63Glaser, Jack and Peter Salovey. 1998. “Affect in Electoral Politics.” Personality and Social Psychology Review 2 (3): 156-172. https://doi.org/10.1207/s15327957pspr0203_1.64Marmor-Lavoie, Galit and Gabriel Weimann. 2006. “Measuring Emotional Appeals in Israeli Election Campaigns.” International Journal of Public Opinion Research 18 (3): 318-339. https://doi.org/10.1093/ijpor/edh108.65Ridout, Travis N. and Kathleen Searles. 2011. “It’s My Campaign I’ll Cry If I Want To: How and When Campaigns Use Emotional Appeals.” Political Psychology 32 (3): 439-458. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-9221.2010.00819.x.66Widmann, Tobias. 2021. “How Emotional Are Populists Really? Factors Explaining Emotional Appeals in the Communication of Political Parties.” Political Psychology 42 (1): 163-181. https://doi.org/10.1111/pops.12693. This is evident in how they frame the issues they speak about. Any issue can be viewed from a variety of different perspectives. A frame stresses “specific elements or features of the broader controversy, reducing a usually complex issue down to one or two central aspects.”67 The way an issue is framed has a profound impact on public opinion and policy support on that issue.67Aaroe, Lene. 2011. “Investigating Frame Strength: The Case of Episodic and Thematic Frames.” Political Communication 28 (2): 207-226. https://doi.org/10.1080/10584609.2011.568041.68Chong, Dennis and James N. Druckman. 2007a. “Framing Public Opinion in Competitive Democracies.” American Political Science Review 101 (4): 637-655. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0003055407070554.69Chong, Dennis and James N. Druckman. 2007b. “Framing Theory.” Annual Review of Political Science 10: 103-126. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev.polisci.10.072805.103054.70Gross, Kimberly. 2008. “Framing Persuasive Appeals: Episodic and Thematic Framing, Emotional Response, and Policy Options.” Political Psychology 29 (2): 169-192. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1467-9221.2008.00622.x.71Sniderman, Paul M. and Sean M. Theriault. 2004. “The Structure of Political Argument and the Logic of Issue Framing.” In Studies in Public Opinion: Attitudes, Nonattitudes, Measurement Error, and Change, edited by Willem E. Saris and Paul M. Sniderman, 133-165. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. For example, 85% of survey respondents supported allowing a hate group to hold a political rally when the issue was framed in terms of free speech, but only 45% of respondents supported allowing the rally when the issue was framed in terms of the risk of violence.72Sniderman, Paul M. and Sean M. Theriault. 2004. “The Structure of Political Argument and the Logic of Issue Framing.” In Studies in Public Opinion: Attitudes, Nonattitudes, Measurement Error, and Change, edited by Willem E. Saris and Paul M. Sniderman, 133-165. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Two important types of frames are thematic and episodic frames.73Aaroe, Lene. 2011. “Investigating Frame Strength: The Case of Episodic and Thematic Frames.” Political Communication 28 (2): 207-226. https://doi.org/10.1080/10584609.2011.568041.74Gross, Kimberly. 2008. “Framing Persuasive Appeals: Episodic and Thematic Framing, Emotional Response, and Policy Options.” Political Psychology 29 (2): 169-192. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1467-9221.2008.00622.x.75Iyengar, Shanto. 1991. Is Anyone Responsible? How Television Frames Political Issues. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Thematic frames focus on the wider context and present abstract evidence in support of the frame. Episodic frames focus on specific, concrete examples. For example, a thematic frame about homelessness in Los Angeles might present statistical figures about the rising number of homeless in the city, while an episodic frame might go in-depth on a particular family who recently lost their home. Thematic frames present much more policy-relevant information. The anecdotal nature of episodic frames can be highly misleading. However, when politicians speak, they generally provide little in terms of detailed policy information. Instead, they prefer anecdotal stories about how Sandra from Poughkeepsie lost her job as the result of the opponent’s policies, how the Johnson family from Des Moines can’t afford medical care for their ailing child, or how Joe from Tucson was the victim of rising violent crime. These episodic frames are effective at evoking emotional responses, which result in greater changes in public opinion than highly informative thematic frames.76Aaroe, Lene. 2011. “Investigating Frame Strength: The Case of Episodic and Thematic Frames.” Political Communication 28 (2): 207-226. https://doi.org/10.1080/10584609.2011.568041.77Gross, Kimberly. 2008. “Framing Persuasive Appeals: Episodic and Thematic Framing, Emotional Response, and Policy Options.” Political Psychology 29 (2): 169-192. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1467-9221.2008.00622.x.78Lecheler, Sophie, Andreas R. T. Schuck, and Claes de Vreese. 2013. “Dealing with Feelings: Positive and Negative Discrete Emotions as Mediators of News Framing Effects.” Communications 38 (2): 189-209. https://doi.org/10.1515/commun-2013-0011. Beyond affecting immediate attitudes, voters are more likely to remember political information that generates emotional responses than political information that produces no emotional response.79Civettini, Andrew J. and David P. Redlawsk. “Voters, Emotions, and Memory.” Political Psychology 30 (1): 125-151. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-9221.2008.00683.x.

Politicians are using emotions in their political appeals to voters. It is time for the public to recognize the importance of emotions for decision-making and how emotions can be manipulated by others for their own gains.

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