Anger vs Anxiety in politics

Nice article in Miller-McCune summarizing the political psychology of anger and anxiety.   Short version, people get angry when they feel they have some control of the situation and it spurs them to get more involved.  Turns out, anger is very politically mobilizing– hello, Tea Party rallies.  But there’s also this:

A particular danger of anger seems to be closed-mindedness. Researchfinds that when citizens get angry, they close themselves off to alternative views and redouble their sense of conviction in their existing views.

Double hello, Tea Party.  Fear and anxiety, in contrast, when there’s a sense that there’s nothing you can do about the problem.  Hence, unlike anger, they do not lead to political mobilization.  However:

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.”

And, here’s a nice summary:

In many respects, anger and fear in politics pose a delicate tension between competing democratic values. On the one hand, anger promotes what many observers see as civic virtues of increased participation, but it also tends to close people off from new information, to drive people to their respective sides and to encourage aggressive and punitive actions — all hallmarks of increased political polarization.

Anger also arises out of and promotes a politics of blame, but a politics of blame (which we tend not to like) is sometimes hard to disentangle from a politics of accountability (which we tend to like).

Alternately, a political culture with less accountability and fewer habits of participation would produce more pure anxiety, which research suggests would lead people to seek out more alternative sources of information and also be more willing to embrace compromise (which we also like).

Hmmm, I guess both fear and anger in moderation?

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

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