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Emotions and Political Attitudes in the Context of COVID-19

Parties and elections
Methodology
VIRTUAL011
Ekaterina Lytkina
Universität Bremen
Margaret Samahita
University College Dublin

Abstract

This workshop aims to explore the understudied role that emotions and affect play in connecting the COVID-19 pandemic to changes in political attitudes. The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on our lives and political attitudes is undeniable. It is therefore not surprising that publications on the impact of COVID-19 on political attitudes and behaviour have begun to appear relatively widely (e.g., Reny&Barreto, 2020; Bol et al., 2020). Yet findings connecting the pandemic and political attitudes remain contradictory and polarizing. Support for leaders has, for example, both become more positive and consolidated, yet blame and responsibility attributions for responses to the pandemic have also become more visible and vocal. Similar trends have emerged in patterns of, on the one hand increased social cohesion and pro- social behaviour, but also increasing polarization and disintegration. In this workshop, we hope to explore one key explanatory factor that can unify these seemingly contradictory results – citizens‘ emotions. Drawing on a multi-faceted conception of emotions, we propose that affective responses to the pandemic serve as a key mechanism connecting societal disruption and changes in societal attitudes. We expect that the Coronavirus pandemic can be characterized as a situation of low problem-focused coping potential, and will thus engender such feelings as fear or anxiety (e.g., Smith & Kirby, 2011; Smith & Kirby, 2009; Lazarus, 2001). In order to cope with these difficult emotions, and because of anxiety’s role in seeking out new information (Marcus et al, 2007) , we expect that the pandemic will make shifts in political attitudes and behaviours more likely. Of special interest for our workshop will be the interaction between the pandemic, emotions, and the activation of populist attitudes and support for populist parties. While existing research has highlighted the presence of a “cultural backlash” (Inglehart and Norris, 2019), we expect that the pandemic conditions may amplify these patterns further. After all, one key issue amplified by the pandemic is increased hostility and prejudice towards outgroups. This hostility is “justified” not only through increased anxiety, it also frequently evokes themes of disgust. Similarly, anger and hostile responsibility attribution have become a common feature of public and media discourse.