When colleagues from other disciplines ask us what we specialize in, they are often puzzled when we say political psychology. “What's that?” and “I didn't know there was such a thing” are frequently heard comments. That is primarily because political psychology is not a traditional field in social science, but an interdisciplinary field that attempts to explain political behavior via psychological principles. The field is so interdisciplinary that calling it “political psychology” is misleading because it includes scholars from both political science and psychology, but also from sociology, public administration, criminal justice, anthropology, and many other areas. Also, unlike many fields in the social sciences, political psychology uses multiple methodologies, from experiments to surveys, to qualitative case studies, and beyond. And, if our colleagues from other disciplines have not heard of political psychology, they will soon. Political psychology is an important domain of academic research; students find it fascinating and very often troubling as they are exposed to some of the most shocking examples of political violence; and policy makers would undoubtedly benefit greatly from a better understanding of political psychology. Understanding the psychological causes of political behavior is crucial if we are to affect patterns of behavior that are harmful to humanity and to promote patterns of behavior that are beneficial to humanity.
As the field of political psychology has grown, so has the need for a comprehensive textbook that pulls its many strands of research in political psychology together. This book is a result of the authors' frustration, which was produced by teaching courses in political psychology without such a book. Rather than having students purchase a textbook on psychology, of which they will read only a portion, and a number of books describing political behavior without a psychological explanation of that behavior, we decided to create a text that merges these disciplines. Thus, we present the psychology as it pertains to political psychology and explain types of political behavior with political psychological concepts in a single book. We introduce readers to a broad range of political psychology theories and sketch many cases of political activity to illustrate the behavior. Readers do not need a background in psychology or political science to understand the material in this book. However, knowing that our introduction may stimulate a desire for further investigation, we also include suggested readings: Many excellent books and articles that contain rich, nuanced studies of each of the political behaviors we introduce in this book.
Once we embarked upon this project, we quickly discovered that the field of political psychology is much broader than those of us who teach and do research in the area may realize. It ranges from voting behavior to nuclear deterrence, from the politics of race to the politics of genocide. In the pages that follow, many of the patterns of behavior researched by political psychologists are presented, including leadership, group behavior, voting, race, ethnicity, nationalism, political extremists, genocide, and war and deterrence. Because political psychology is so broad, many of us who teach the courses tend to stick to the portions of political psychology we are most familiar with. Consequently, another goal of this book is to educate