Inducing anger increases economic conservatism, study finds

People are more likely to endorse economically conservative ideals when they’re angry, according to new psychology research.

“As a Canadian living in the United States, I was fascinated by the level of anger being exhibited both before and after the 2012 election. That doesn’t happen in Canada, which is a more liberal country, so it got me wondering if anger was related to the level of conservatism I observed,” explained study author Keri L. Kettle, an assistant professor at the University of Manitoba.

The study, published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, included more than 1,000 participants in total.

In a survey of 538 undergraduate students, the researchers found a positive relationships between anger proneness and economic conservatism. In other words, people who reported being quick to anger also tended to hold conservative views, such as “Laws of nature are responsible for differences in wealth in society,” and “If people work hard, they almost always get what they want.”

Three follow-up studies using participants from Amazon Mechanical Turk confirmed that inducing angry feelings in people made them more likely to endorse conservative economic ideals and political candidates espousing those ideals.

“Many factors influence voting behavior, and thus elections, including how you feel on the day you vote,” Kettle told PsyPost. “I know that we all like to believe that people vote on the basis of their personal belief systems and/or candidates’ positions on important issues, but the reality is that many seemingly trivial things affect voting behavior. For instance, there is research showing that people vote differently if their voting station is in a school rather than a church or other venue.”

“Our research should help make people aware that their own emotions can influence their voting behavior,” Kettle added. “When elections are decided by a small margin, even something as seemingly unimportant as the emotional state of the electorate can alter the outcome of an election.”

The researchers believe that anger promotes competitiveness, which in turn promotes economic conservatism. They found that anger promoted economic conservatism most strongly when people perceived resources to be scarce.

“If you think about competition, it’s about trying to win out over someone else, and it’s usually over some type of valuable or desirable resource. By making people more competitive, we think that people become more focused on acquiring resources,” said co-author Anthony Salerno in a news release.

But the researchers only found evidence that anger increases economic conservatism — not conservative views in general.

“All research comes with caveats, but I will say that we have consistently replicated this effect,” Kettle explained. “The main caveat is that we have not tested it during an actual election. To be honest, I’m not sure we ever would get ethics approval for that! Could you imagine trying to get approval from your university for a study when your expected outcome is that you’ll get people to vote differently! I don’t see that happening.”

There is still a need for more research.

“We’re focused on two questions,” Kettle said. “First, how long does this effect last? Anger is a powerful emotion, but we’re interested in learning more about whether feeling angry the day prior would still affect this behavior, or if the emotion must be experienced right before the decision. I think that is worth exploring further, especially given that many campaign ads really seek to elicit anger.”

“Second, what about different emotions? Can we shift voting behavior in a different way if, for instance, people felt gratitude?”

The findings do not mean that everyone who endorses economic conservatism is an angry person.

“I’d caution against turning this result into some kind of anti-Trump or anti-anyone article,” Kettle told PsyPost. “We seek to explain and understand voter behavior, not to pass judgment on it. I will say this: given the results of our research, it’s clear that Trump played his cards very well to get elected. His campaign was very much focused on eliciting anger by blaming others for America’s woes. Whether one agrees with Trump or not is not my interest – I’m Canadian after all! He did, however, elicit the correct emotions to shift support his way.”

The study, “Anger Promotes Economic Conservatism“, was published July 14, 2017.