Political psychology research seminar

19th September 2023, 12-1pm (on Teams)

Dr Katharina Lawall (University of London)

Angry losers? The effects of feeling electoral loss on anti-democratic attitudes

Peaceful transfers of power are a fundamental principle of democracy. Even when one’s preferred party loses, voters should still uphold democratic norms and reject political violence. Yet, in times of heightened affective polarization, partisans may react to electoral loss by weakening their support for democratic norms. We test this idea through a pre-registered survey experiment conducted around the 2022 US mid-term elections. We randomly assign Republican and Democrat partisans to receive either a placebo or an electoral loss prime in the form of a newspaper article and an open-ended survey question. Within the electoral loss treatment, we also vary which emotion, anger or anxiety, is primed. Contrary to our expectations, we do not find evidence that priming electoral loss significantly increases support for political violence. However, exploratory analyses show that priming electoral loss does increase affective polarization. These findings suggest that short-lived outbursts of negative partisan emotions can increase feelings of distance towards political opponents but are not enough to propel partisans to adopt extreme anti-democratic attitudes. By linking the study of emotions to affective polarization and democratic norms, this paper contributes to our understanding of when negative emotions (fail to) radicalize partisans.

Seminar will be held on Teams.