Academic journal article Political Research Quarterly

Emotions, Campaigns, and Political Participation

Academic journal article Political Research Quarterly

Emotions, Campaigns, and Political Participation

Article excerpt


There has been a scarcity of work examining the political consequences of discrete emotions. This article examines the political effects of several emotions-anger, sadness, fear, and enthusiasm. Emotional ads should influence whether voters become politically active. To test this, two experiments were administered. The first examines emotional responses to campaign messages; the second tests whether emotions influence political participation. The results indicate anger is mobilizing, by increasing participatory intentions and factors related to participate. This result is then replicated using ad-tracking data. The findings indicate that emotions are an important factor in studying campaign effects.


emotions, affect, political campaigns, advertising

Emotions are a staple of American political campaigns, and one need not look far to find examples of emo- tional campaign ads. Both scholars and political pundits describe campaigns in emotion-centered terms, noting how candidates connect with voters, how a cold, emo- tionless persona alienates voters, and how campaign advertisements elicit a host of emotions. Consider Hillary Clinton's "3AM" advertisement released during the 2008 Democratic Party primaries, or prototypical spots, such as Lyndon Johnson's "Daisy Girl" ad in which an unaware girl picking apart a daisy precedes images of a nuclear explosion. Since the onslaught of television advertising, candidates have drawn on many emotions (Brader 2006).

While political advertisers attempt to elicit many emo- tions in the public (Brader 2006), there has been a scarcity of scholarly work examining whether specific emotions aroused in political campaigns influence political behav- ior. Much of the literature on campaign advertising has examined the implications of emotional valence- positive versus negative advertising (Ansolabehere et al. 1994) or ads that elicit enthusiasm versus fear (Brader 2005, 2006). Moreover, one of the more contentious issues to emerge in the study of American campaigns is whether negative ads affect political interest and participation. In the decade and a half following Ansolabehere et al.'s (1994) seminal finding that attack advertisements reduce turnout, there has been a flurry of academic and nonaca- demic interest in the topic (Clinton and Lapinski 2004; Lau and Pomper 2004; Brooks 2006), with the consensus being that under particular conditions attack ads depress turnout. Yet much of this work fails to consider the effect of emotions.

In this article I examine the consequences of emo- tional appeals in campaign ads by (1) demonstrating that individuals experience an array of emotions in response to campaign advertisements and (2) disaggregating emo- tions of the same valence; specific emotions have unique and important political consequences. Using two experi- ments and ad-tracking data, I demonstrate that emotions are a vital characteristic to consider when describing the consequences of political campaigns. In these studies, anger emerges as a mobilizing force. Anger-evoking political messages heighten participatory intentions, consistent with previous research showing that anger is associated with behavioral approach (Lerner and Tiedens 2006; C. Harmon-Jones et al. 2011). Before describing the consequences of emotional campaign ads, I review several theoretical approaches.

Dimensional and Discrete Models of Emotion

Research on affect has exerted a growing influence on the study of political behavior, and affect is an essential com- ponent in social judgment and behavior (see Davidson, Scherer, and Goldsmith 2003). The political implications of emotion are pervasive, having been empirically linked to perceptions of candidates and vote choice (Lodge and Taber 2005; Brader 2005), media consumption and learn- ing (Marcus and MacKuen 1993; Huddy et al. 2005), policy attitudes (Huddy, Feldman, and Cassese 2007), and political participation (Valentino et al. …

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