I’m watching the U.S. election from overseas. I don’t feel the full brunt of the campaigns, but I have been feeling about them, with them, and for them more than I’d like. This might be aided by the many Facebook posts from friends who are also feeling. So I also have secondary feeling effects.
This caused me ask, do I really need my politicians to make me feel? It’s a new question for me. Certainly in 2008, I was owning the empowered Obama feeling, and I had strong feelings of anger towards anything Republican. This year, I care a whole lot about the results of the election, I just don’t have the proximity to the election nor the extra emotion to expend getting all worked-up. I’m still in denial that Trump is the front-runner and I’m happy that other people have the energy for Bernie that I don’t. As for Hilary, she hasn’t asked me to feel. She just makes me think. And I like that. (In 2008, when I wanted to feel, I did not like that.)
I wanted to know if feelings are used as a component of political campaigns. In short, yes, of course they are. There are many publications and Google search results (here, here and here as a selection) describing how our voting processes are based on emotions as opposed to rationality. However, most of these articles don’t identify the precise effects of a particular emotion. The research that caught my attention was found in a 2012 article on the Ph.D thesis of Else Marie Holm, ‘Emotions as Mediators of Framing Effects’ (Aarhus University’s School of Business and Social Sciences).
Holm studied how emotions affect our political standpoint and whether emotions can be manipulated – including anger, empathy, and anxiety. She found that when anxiety is prompted, we become unsure or worried, and we tend to look for new information on the subject that concerns us. In this way, anxiety, as an emotion, leads us to more rationality in our decision making when compared to anger or empathy.
Anxiety – which means a lot in American electioneering, with its mud-slinging – generates a cognitive decision-making process.
Else Marie Holm
Guess who else provokes my anger, empathy and anxiety? My preschooler. She likes to talk back and, then, in the next moment, smother me with kisses. Her behavior heightens my anxiety such that I spend a lot of time information gathering on everything from car seat standards, kid-friendly food, and ADHD. I couldn’t find any research on “do mothers of toddlers have enough emotional capacity to be provoked by the emotion of political campaigns?” Certainly, my emotional capacity is topped-up, and perhaps at this juncture in life, I just don’t need my political candidates to help me out.
In campaigns, the downside of provoking anxiety is that it may cause supporters to seek out information that could lead them to vote for a competitor. Perhaps, Trump and Cruz are not actually causing me so much anger, as anxiety. I know Sanders and Clinton are doing that for other people. My support for Hilary is the likely result of information seeking caused by all this anxiety. As well, she’s been campaigning for so long, this information seeking has been eight+ years in the making.
Anxiety is thus an emotion that strengthens the idealist picture of well-informed citizens in a democracy. Anxiety shows us that you can prick holes in the myth that emotions are a bad thing in a democracy.
Else Marie Holm
Politicians and pre-schoolers are savvy in the ways they use emotions in their campaigns. I began this post thinking that I’d advocate against emotions in campaigning, yet I’m swayed by the possibilities of anxiety leading to increased rationality. There you have it, yes, politicians, if you’re going to deal us the feels, then toss in some anxiety. It’ll help us to think, but might not get us to vote for you.