Anger, Politics and the Wisdom of Uncertainty
Angry citizens, new research confirms, are motivated citizens. But they are not motivated to seek out new information. But anxious citizens do.
From the page: “…To say that these are angry political times is perhaps to state the obvious. Commentators and analysts bemoan the lost civility, wondering what is to be done. But here’s something hopeful: New understanding of how emotions operate in politics might help us to better manage these emotions as a society.
The first thing to know about anger is where it comes from. Research suggests it begins with a threat (in these political times, say, rising economic insecurity). But whether it gets translated into anger depends on a few things.
First, it matters how the threat is described. If there’s somebody or even some institution to blame, it turns out people are much more likely to get angry.
In a paper titled “Fight or Flight? When Political Threats Arouse Public Anger and Fear” (presented at a recent conference but yet unpublished), University of Michigan political science professors Ted Brader and Nicholas Valentino and University of Memphis political science professor Eric W. Groenendyk report on experiments in which they found that respondents react differently to fictitious news reports on outsourcing and a viral outbreak. News articles that identify individuals and organizations as the culprits generate significantly more anger than those that ascribe it to impersonal causes. Without someone to blame, respondents mostly just grow fearful and anxious.
Anger is also more likely to arise when individuals feel as though they have some control over the situation – that they have a sense of political efficacy, and the resources and experience to know how to get involved in the first place. Again, without a feeling of control, fear predominates.
This matters, because people act differently when they are angry as opposed to when they are simply afraid or anxious.
For one, anger tends to inspire individuals to engage in more political activities than they would otherwise. “The one thing that seems particularly true about anger is that it is powerfully mobilizing,” said Brader. “It’s a very high-energy emotion.”
In a recent Journal of Politics article titled “Election Night’s Alright for Fighting: The Role of Emotions in Political Participation,” Brader, Groenendyk, Valentino and two other colleagues (Michigan political scientist Vincent L. Hutchings and Michigan doctoral student Krysha Gregorowicz) reported on experiments and crunched American National Election Studies data to show that when citizens get angry, they get active.
In an experimental manipulation, the researchers used “an emotional induction task” – asking participants to recall and write about an experience that made them either angry, anxious or enthusiastic. After the manipulation, subjects were given questions about their intention to participate in politics. Anger inducement boosted intention to participate by one-third of an act out of five possible acts; anxiety and enthusiasm had no effect.
Similarly, survey data on citizen self-reports of anger are predictive of campaign participation, whereas fear and enthusiasm are not. In particular, voters who report anger are much more likely to engage in what political scientists describe as “costly” activities (because they require extra resources): attending rallies, donating money, volunteering for campaigns.
“Anger gets people engaged,” said Brader. “There’s a tendency among scholars and others to say that things like negative advertising are bad. But our paper points out that negative emotions like anger can bring people out and get people more involved. So the consequences aren’t all bad.”
And Groenendyk notes: “If anger is on your side, and it’s mobilizing people to get involved, anger can be a great thing.”
A particular danger of anger seems to be closed-mindedness. Research finds that when citizens get angry, they close themselves off to alternative views and redouble their sense of conviction in their existing views. Fear and anxiety, on the other hand, seem to promote openness to alternative viewpoints and a willingness to compromise.
“Fear alerts you that something is amiss in your environment and draws your attention and says you should consider your action,” said Groenendyk. “Anger tends to move people beyond that and suggests to them to invest resources in participation and pursue riskier strategies that might cost them something.”…”