Deplorables: Emotions, Political Sophistication, and Political Intolerance

Published date01 March 2020
AuthorChristopher Claassen,James Gibson,Joan Barceló
Date01 March 2020
Subject MatterArticles
American Politics Research
2020, Vol. 48(2) 252 –262
© The Author(s) 2019
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/1532673X18820864
You know, to just be grossly generalistic, you could put half of
Trump’s supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables. Right?
The racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic—
you name it. And unfortunately there are people like that. And he
has lifted them up. He has given voice to their websites that used
to only have 11,000 people—now 11 million. He tweets and
retweets their offensive hateful mean-spirited rhetoric. Now,
some of those folks—they are irredeemable, but thankfully they
are not America.
Hillary Clinton
Populist and authoritarian political movements are on the
rise across the world. In countries as diverse as the United
States, Turkey, Hungary, Brazil, and Italy, authoritarian-
populist leaders or parties are in government. One of the hall-
marks of these movements is their crass majoritarianism,
sometimes associated with a call for minority and dissident
voices to be silenced, whether by the state or by the very sup-
porters of these movements. Thus, it would appear that polit-
ical tolerance, always the most elusive of democratic values,
is once again under threat in many democracies.
A great deal of research has attempted to understand why
some citizens extend civil rights to groups they dislike, while
others do not (see Gibson, 2006; Sullivan & Hendriks, 2009).
Since intolerance represents a negative, almost instinctive
reaction to a threatening outgroup, a particularly interesting
approach has been to examine the emotional roots of
intolerance (see for examples, Haas & Cunningham, 2014;
Kuklinski, Riggle, Ottati, Schwarz, & Wyer, 1991; Marcus,
Sullivan, Theiss-Morse, & Stevens, 2005; Marcus, Sullivan,
Theiss-Morse, & Wood, 1995; Skitka, Bauman, & Mullen,
Yet unresolved issues remain in the study of emotion and
intolerance. First, which emotion (if any) most powerfully
drives intolerance? Noting the prominent role played by
threat in predicting intolerance, some scholars have argued
that intolerance is a reaction to fear and anxiety (e.g., Marcus
et al., 1995). Others have emphasized the role played by
anger (Skitka et al., 2004), which, in intergroup settings, can
produce a confrontational and aggressive response to target
groups (Mackie, Devos, & Smith, 2000). Yet others have
made the case for a unique influence of hatred—indeed,
Halperin, Canetti-Nisim, and Hirsch-Hoefler (2009) argue
that hatred is perhaps the most powerful driver of
A second unresolved issue concerns the interplay between
emotion and political sophistication. While intolerance is
820864APRXXX10.1177/1532673X18820864American Politics ResearchGibson et al.
1Washington University, St Louis, MO, USA
2University of Glasgow, UK
Corresponding Author:
James Gibson, Washington University, Campus Box 1063; One Brookings
Drive, St Louis, MO 63108, USA.
Deplorables: Emotions, Political
Sophistication, and Political Intolerance
James Gibson1, Christopher Claassen2 , and Joan Barceló1
While scholars have shown strong interest in the role of emotions in politics, questions remain about the connections
between emotions and political intolerance. First, it is not clear which emotion (if any) is likely to produce intolerance
toward one’s disliked groups, with different studies favoring hatred, anger, or fear. Second, it is unclear whether these effects
of emotion are moderated by sophistication, as some conventional political thought argues. Do the less-sophisticated rely
on emotions when making judgments, therefore being less tolerant than sophisticates, who rely on reason? Here, we test
both hypotheses using a large representative sample Americans. We find that hatred, anger, and fear are significantly but only
modestly related to political intolerance. Moreover, the effects of emotions on intolerance are not consistently stronger
among the unsophisticated. These findings provide little support for the conventional assumption that the less-sophisticated
rely on their emotions in making political judgments.
political tolerance, emotion, political sophistication, deplorables

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