What Is Political Psychology?
Although its ancestry in social philosophy can be traced back to ancient times, modern political psychology as an academic discipline was born in the decades between the First and Second World Wars. It is a child of political science and psychology, having been conceived in the ambivalent mood of optimism and despair that has characterized the scientific age. Rapidly expanding knowledge, the increasing confidence in scientific methods, and the ever quickening technological developments stimulated the awareness that scientific methods might be applied to the understanding of political behavior. The increasing political turmoil, the irrationality and destructiveness of the First World War, the development of modern totalitarian regimes with their barbarities, the emergence of the mass media and their systematic use by propagandists, suggested an urgent need for more systematic knowledge about the relationship between political and psychological processes.
The first notable link between psychology and political science in the United States developed at the University of Chicago under the encouragement of the political scientist Charles Merriam (Davies, 1973). Merriam (1925, 1934) explicitly called for a scientific political science that would draw on psychology. It was one of Merriam's students, Harold D. Lasswell, who responded to that call and, through his writings and his teachings, became the American founding father of political psychology as a new academic discipline.