Tell Us How You Feel: Emotional Appeals for Votes in Presidential Primaries

Published date01 September 2022
Date01 September 2022
Subject MatterArticles
American Politics Research
2022, Vol. 50(5) 609622
© The Author(s) 2022
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/1532673X221106432
Tell Us How You Feel: Emotional Appeals for
Votes in Presidential Primaries
Zachary A. Scott
and Jared McDonald
Emotions are an important feature of representation, as they allow politicians to ref‌lect the feelings of their constituents. Yet
studies of elitesuse of emotions have been conf‌ined to examinations of strategic incentives. We build on these studies by
incorporating elitesgroup identities as a theoretical consideration. Our theory blends perspectives on the group identities of
partisanship, gender, and race with political psychology research on emotions. We hypothe size that Republicans use more fear
and disgust language than Democrats, that women candidates use more joy language than men candidates, and that Black
candidates use less anger than white candidates. We test these hypotheses by applying emotional sentiment dictionari es to a
corpus of primary candidatesspeeches. The evidence supports our claim that Republicans use more fear and that women use
more joy, but we f‌ind no signif‌icant differences in the use of disgust and anger language by partisanship and race, respectively.
campaigns, emotions, elite rhetoric, presidential primaries
A large and growing body of literature shows that emotional
cues are powerful motivators of political behavior (e.g.,
Groenendyk & Banks, 2014;Phoenix, 2019;Valentino et al.,
2011). Left implied by many of these works is that political
elites employ emotions routinely and reliably. Jerit (2004)
suggests a survival of the f‌ittestfeature to campaign
rhetoric, where emotional appeals survive over alternatives
because they allow candidates to emphasize universal values
while capturing media attention. But might candidates face
constraints on their ability to utilize emotions?
This question is largely unanswered, though by no means
unimportant. Democratic theorists emphasize legislative
outcomes and descriptive features as key forms of repre-
sentation (Canes-Wrone et al., 2002;Mansbridge, 2003;
Pitkin, 1967), but legislative outcomes are not the only way
constituent attitudes are ref‌lected by political leaders. When
politicians and citizens share particular emotions about
government and society, it can lead to stronger perceptions
that the politician is one of us(McDonald, 2021;Tremblay,
2019). Yet studies of the attitudinal and behavioral ramif‌i-
cations of emotions far outpace studies of the volume and
content of emotions in the political communication envi-
ronment (but see Borah, 2016;Brader, 2006;Jerit, 2004;
Ridout & Searles, 2011), making it diff‌icult to assess whether
political elites are responsive to the emotions felt by the
masses. This paper seeks to close that gap. And it does so in
the context of presidential primaries, an understudied yet
important electoral situation, and by drawing on speeches by
the candidates themselves, a form of candidate communi-
cation not considered by the handful of aforementioned
The few existing studies of elite emotional cues tend to
focus on how situational factors like candidatespoll standing
or the competitiveness of the race structure strategic incen-
tives (Brader, 2006;Ridout & Searles, 2011). Our theoretical
expectations compliment these studies by additively incor-
porating the valuable perspectives of literatures on group
identities (Phoenix, 2019). Because many voters rely on
group cue heuristics when thinking about politics (Converse,
1964) and because group-specif‌ic socialization processes
inculcate different values and norms (Hughes, 2003;
Margolis, 2018;Witt, 1997), we argue that the group iden-
tities of candidates should meaningfully affect emotional
rhetoric. If group identities inf‌luence the emotional rhetoric
politicians can effectively convey, it has important implica-
tions for the way they represent constituents.
This argument leads us to several specif‌ic hypotheses.
Because the Republican electorate exhibits anxiety that
Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem, NC, USA
University of Mary Washington, Fredericksburg, VA, USA
Corresponding Author:
Zachary A. Scott, Politics and International Affairs, Wake Forest University,
Winston-Salem, NC, USA.

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT