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Issues, Emotions and Party Preferences: An Experimental Study of the Psychological Foundations of Voting Behaviour

Political Psychology
Communication
Electoral Behaviour
Experimental Design
Public Opinion
Voting Behaviour
Martin Rosema
Universiteit Twente
Elisa van der Plas
University of Twente
Martin Rosema
Universiteit Twente
Giedo Jansen
Universiteit Twente
Alan Sanfey
Radboud Universiteit Nijmegen

Abstract

Past research on vote choice has provided insights into the role of policy issues as well as emotions, but seldom into how their interplay influences evaluations of political parties. We synthesize theories from voting research (e.g., issue ownership) with theories of emotion (e.g., appraisal theories) in order to better understand attitudes towards political parties. More specifically, we analyze the impact of negative emotions such as fear and anger related to specific policy issues on party preferences. In order to test our ideas, we developed videos about climate change, immigration, and health care. The issues were framed as either being uncertain, or threatening, or blamed to a third party. A sample of Dutch citizens (N=1825) participated in a 3x3 between-subjects design and rated issue importance, emotional responses (12-item PANAS), and party evaluations in an online survey. The results confirm the expectations derived from appraisal theories of emotion: threat triggered fear, whilst adding blame attributions triggered anger. The nature of the emotional response could be explained to a considerable extent on the basis of political attitudes and personality characteristics. The oversimplified framings increased party evaluations, yet strikingly, blame manipulations predicted evaluations without mediation of issue importance. In two follow-up studies, we explore the neurological basis of these effects via brain-imaging (EEG and fMRI). Implications for models of voting, modern-day political communication in campaigns, and the potential impact of social media in the political domain are discussed.