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The Emotional Underpinnings of Citizens' Populism: How Anger, Fear, and Sadness Affect Populist Attitudes and Vote Choice

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This paper explores the dynamics between negative emotions elicited by the economic crisis and populism. We theorize different expectations regarding the relationship between anger, anxiety and sadness on the one hand, and populist attitudes and vote choice on the other. Anger is expected to be the main emotional driver of populism. This is so because perceptions of injustice, moral judgements, blame attribution, and controllability are at the same time defining components of this negative emotion and fundamental elements of populist rhetoric. Feelings of anxiety and sadness, conversely, are expected to have negative or no effects. Our results, based on a three-wave panel from Spain, show that within-individual changes in emotional states along time are related to changes in these attitudes and behaviors: anger significantly increases populist attitudes and the likelihood of voting for a populist party. Anxiety has the opposite effect, reaching statistical significance only for vote choice. Sadness shows no effect.
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The Emotional Underpinnings of Citizens’ Populism: How Anger, Fear, and
Sadness Affect Populist Attitudes and Vote Choice
Guillem Rico
Marc Guinjoan
Eva Anduiza
Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona
Abstract
This paper explores the dynamics between negative emotions elicited by the economic
crisis and populism. We theorize different expectations regarding the relationship
between anger, anxiety and sadness on the one hand, and populist attitudes and vote
choice on the other. Anger is expected to be the main emotional driver of populism.
This is so because perceptions of injustice, moral judgements, blame attribution, and
controllability are at the same time defining components of this negative emotion and
fundamental elements of populist rhetoric. Feelings of anxiety and sadness, conversely,
are expected to have negative or no effects. Our results, based on a three-wave panel
from Spain, show that within-individual changes in emotional states along time are
related to changes in these attitudes and behaviors: anger significantly increases populist
attitudes and the likelihood of voting for a populist party. Anxiety has the opposite
effect, reaching statistical significance only for vote choice. Sadness shows no effect.
Introduction
In 2008 about 20% of the Spanish citizens reported politics make them feel mostly
“irritated”. Four years later, the percentage had doubled and in 2012, after four years of
severe economic recession and a string of corruption scandals, 40% reported such affect
when thinking about what politics make them feel (CIS Barometers). It is hard not to
connect this mood with the rise of the political protests called the 15M or the
“Indignados” (the indignant) that took place in 2011. Indeed, previous analyses of the
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15M have emphasized the role of emotions (Alvarez et al. 2015) and have found that
moral outrage and anger were prevalent emotions motivating these protests (Likki 2012;
Perugorria and Tejerina 2013). This process of social mobilization is at the root of the
upsurge of a left-wing political party called Podemos (“We Can”). Podemos was created
in January 2014 by a group of academics that had actively participated in the 15M and
were familiar with the works of Chantal Mouffe and Ernesto Laclau and with Latin
American experiences of populism. Podemos soon displayed a populist discourse
emphasizing the opposition between the caste and the people (Gómez-Reino and
Llamazares 2016). Only a few months after its creation, Podemos obtained 8% of the
popular vote in the EP elections of 2014 and (together with different proximate
territorial organizations) over 20% of the vote in the General elections held in 2015.
Understanding the birth and rise of a populist party like Podemos requires considering
the role of negative affect and particularly of anger.
A few months after, following the failed dull attempts to form government, elections
were called again. Polls where consistently predicting an excellent result of Podemos,
which would overcome the Socialist party and become the main left-wing opposition
party. Spanish citizens were called to vote on June 26, only 48 hours after the result of
the Brexit referendum was known. On June 24 the Spanish stock market IBEX fell
12%. While the consequences of the Brexit were still to be fully seen and felt, the result
of this referendum against the view of the British and European political establishments,
promoted by a right wing populist party, came as a shock of uncertainty. While we do
not have data that reflect the emotional reaction of Spanish citizens to this event only a
few hours before voting, one can expect that Brexit may have triggered feelings of fear.
Participation in the June 2016 elections fell almost 4 percentage points to respect to
December 2015, the Popular Party (PP) increased its number of votes and seats, and
Podemos felt short of their own expectations loosing over one million voters. While this
electoral result may of course be due to many alternative explanations (a demobilization
of a younger electorate unhappy with the failed negotiations, the political campaign, the
agreement between Podemos and the communist United Left to mention a few), one
may also consider to what extent fear may have demobilised would be Podemos voters
and mobilize PP supporters.
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These two examples taken from the Spanish case underline the importance that
emotions may have to promote or undermine populist attitudes and, as a consequence,
to influence citizens’ vote choices. Indeed, populist movements have often depicted as
highly emotionally charged episodes (Fieschi 2004). The anxiety provoked by far-
reaching societal change, for example, has been recurrently associated with populist
upsurge. Similarly, anger against the establishment became a hallmark of the anti-
austerity protests with strong populist tone in the wake of the economic crisis, such as
those featured by the Spanish and Greek indignados. However, despite these and
analogous widespread characterizations, the alleged link between populism and citizens’
emotions remains undertheorized has hardly been subject of systematic empirical
scrutiny in the burgeoning literature on populism, which rarely delves into the analysis
of discrete emotional reactions (see Demertzis 2006).
This paper explores the relationship between citizens’ emotions and mass support for
populism. To this end, it focuses on the effects of affective reactions aroused by the
financial crisis in Spain. Economic recession is arguably a powerful source of (mostly
negative) emotions for citizens, since emotions regulate individuals’ response to
changes in their wellbeing (Davou and Demertzis 2014). Drawing on data from an
online panel survey, we examine how three basic discrete emotions elicited by the
crisis—anger, fear, and sadness—are related to the voters’ expression of populist
attitudes and intended support for Podemos.
We start by reviewing research on the origins and consequences of emotional reactions.
Next, we elaborate our expectations regarding the relationship between populism and
emotional reactions to the crisis. Following the description of the data and methods to
be used, we then report the results of the empirical analysis, which are discussed in the
concluding section.
The Distinct Antecedents and Consequences of Discrete Negative Emotions
Most extant work on the influence of emotions on political judgment and behavior has
been largely guided by the theory of affective intelligence advanced by Marcus and
MacKuen (Marcus et al. 2000; 1993). The theory conceives emotions as structured
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along the dimensions of enthusiasm and anxiety, which are connected with the
disposition system and the surveillance system, respectively. Feelings of enthusiasm are
triggered by situations in which personal goals are being met. They reinforce
individuals’ existing preferences and encourage them to follow habitual patterns of
behavior. In contrast, feelings of anxiety are activated when personal goals are under
threat or have already been frustrated. As a result, normal routines are interrupted,
reliance on predispositions is relaxed, and attention is diverted toward contemporaneous
information. Emotions thus serve an adaptive function, as they adjust cognitive
processing and behaviors according to the environmental requirements.
Affective intelligence belongs to the family of dimensional theories of emotions, as it
distinguishes two orthogonal dimensions on the basis of their valence. The disposition
system concerns positively-valenced emotions, encompassing affective states of
enthusiasm with varying degrees of arousal, such as happiness, hope, gratitude, and
pride. In contrast, the surveillance system is defined by negative emotions with varying
degrees of anxiety, like sadness, fear, anger, and shame. This approach acknowledges
the fact that emotional experiences with the same valence tend to correlate, i.e. feelings
of anger, fear, or sadness appear to co-occur when their levels are measured across
individuals and situations.
The case can be made, however, that there might exist relevant differences as to the
antecedents and consequences of distinct emotions within the same valence dimension.
Not all individuals react equally to identical negative stimuli, and their different
reactions are likely produce different effects on preferences and behavior. Indeed, the
original theory of affective intelligence has been revised in later developments to
integrate a new dimension of emotions, aversion, taping feelings of anger, disgust,
contempt, and hatred (MacKuen et al. 2010; Marcus et al. 2000). Like anxiety, aversion
comprises a set of “negative” affective stats––i.e., it is brought about by goal-
inconsistent event––yet it is nonetheless aligned with the disposition system, like
enthusiasm. This is so because aversion is triggered in situations of known, recurrent
threat, while anxiety arises in conditions of possible but uncertain risk. Because the
disagreeable event being confronted is already familiar, states of aversion promote
commitment to one’s predispositions and reliance on learned strategies, rather than the
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reconsideration of previous convictions and the search of new information, which are
typically encouraged when anxiety is evoked.
Other theoretical approaches allow to finer-grained discrimination among negative (or
positive) emotions. In particular, cognitive appraisal theories have much contributed to
the understanding of the origins and consequences of discrete emotions (Frijda et al.
1989; Lazarus 1991; Roseman 1996; Smith and Ellsworth 1985). The basic tenet of
appraisal theories is that people’s reactions to stimuli depend to a large extent on the
conscious and preconscious interpretations that each individual makes of the situation.
The assumption is that cognition and affect do not constitute separate systems, as
posited by early psychological paradigms, but are intimately interrelated. Thus how
people appraise the environment in connection with their personal goals ultimately
determines which particular emotion is aroused.
Although scholars have not reached an agreement on the list of appraisal dimensions
that explain the emergence of the most recurrent distinct emotions, a number of themes
are invariably present in their proposals. For example, in one of the earliest attempts,
Smith and Ellsworth (1985) included six dimensions (pleasantness , anticipated effort,
certainty, attentional activity, responsibility, and control) that account for 15 positive
and negative emotions. Lazarus (1991) identified three primary appraisals (goal
relevance, goal congruency, and type of ego involvement) and three secondary
appraisals (blame or credit, coping potential, and future expectations) to predict ten
emotions. And Roseman et al. (1996) were able to differentiate 17 different emotions
from seven components (unexpectedness, situational state, motivational state,
probability, control potential, and agency).
Not all dimensions are relevant to distinguish between any pair of emotions. In the case
at hand, anger, fear, and sadness may be distinguished on the basis of three main
dimensions: certainty, concerning whether the (negative) event is certain to happen or
not; responsibility, which refers to whether the situation is caused by some identifiable
actor or by circumstances beyond anyone’s control; and efficacy, regarding one’s ability
to influence the event.
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Anger is likely to arise if a threat to personal rewards is certain to occur or has already
materialized as a consequence of the deliberate or negligent behavior by an external
agent in control, and hence blameworthy, but is accompanied by the sense that one has
some capacity to deal with the situation. Contrarily, fear is caused by a highly uncertain
threat and, as a consequence of the very uncertainty about the likelihood and nature of
the danger being faced, is usually linked to appraisals of situational control (the
perception that the situation is the result of the circumstances and no specific agent can
be blamed for it) and low efficacy (the individual has no clear idea of how the threat can
be prevented).1 Also sadness is associated with situational control and low coping
potential, but, unlike fear, is characterized by the certainty of an irrevocable loss and the
person’s inability to restore the harm (Lazarus 1991).
Do these distinct appraisal patterns translate into different responses to negative stimuli?
A large body of research suggests that they do, and effects are also visible in the
political realm, even if some findings remain inconsistent across studies and differences
between “similar” but discrete emotions are in some cases hardly discernable (Angie et
al. 2011; Brader and Marcus 2013). Much of the research on this field has focused on
the contrast between anger and fear—or the more encompassing aversion and anxiety—
as their respective patterns of appraisal are opposite from one another on the
aforementioned key dimensions.
The fact that anger entails a harm or offense that is perceived as unfair and depreciating
and that there is certainty about who is to blame, along with the sense that one has
nonetheless control over the situation and the risks are low, typically triggers a
behavioral approach. Anger motivates to take action against the responsible agent,
promoting a corrective response. The style of the angry citizen is confrontational rather
than deliberative, such that new considerations are forestalled in favor of prior
convictions. Accordingly, anger has been found to boost political participation
(Valentino et al. 2009; Valentino et al. 2011; Weber 2013) and protest (van Troost et al.
2013), foster support for punitive and aggressive policies (Cassese and Weber 2011;
1 Although some authors have indicated important differences between the two, the terms of
anxiety and fear are often used interchangeably, as are anger and the more encompassing
aversion.
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Gault and Sabini 2000; Huddy et al. 2007; Lerner et al. 2003; Petersen 2010), and
heighten superficial information processing and reliance on prior convictions (Huddy et
al. 2007; MacKuen et al. 2010).
In contrast, the sense of uncertainty governing states of fear usually translates into
increased vigilance, information search, and more attentive and systematic processing in
judgments, in an effort to avoid harm and reduce uncertainty. Fearful individuals tend to
favor conciliation, prevention, protection, and other risk-aversive behaviors. Research
on the political consequences of fear has found it to promote citizens’ political learning
and a more careful and less automatic processing of information in decision-making
(Brader 2006; Huddy et al. 2007; MacKuen et al. 2010; Marcus et al. 2000) and
enhance support for precautionary and protective measures (Lerner et al. 2003; Nabi
2003).
Unlike anger and fear, sadness is a low-arousal emotion, which might explain why its
political implications have received little attention to date (Brader and Marcus 2013).
Given the similarity of their appraisal patterns, the effects of sadness appear to closely
parallel those of fear as to the enhancement of reflection, effortful information
processing, behavioral withdrawal, and support for compassionate policies, particularly
when compared against anger, although results tend to be not as clear-cut and are
sometimes inconsistent across studies (Small and Lerner 2008; Weber 2013). One
distinctive feature of sadness reported in some analyses is that it motivates individuals
to change the circumstances, which may result in a preference for high-reward
decisions, even if they entail higher risk (Lerner et al. 2004; Raghunathan and Pham
1999).
An important strand of research in emotions extends the influence affective states on
judgments and decisions beyond the specific situations that have elicited them and onto
normatively irrelevant domains. Scholars have thus found that incidental emotions may
influence subsequent behaviors even when these are unrelated to the source of the
affective state (Forgas 1995; Schwarz and Clore 1983). Further, research within the
Appraisal Tendency Framework contends that emotions not only arise from cognitive
appraisals but also prompt the interpretation of future events in line with patterns of
appraisal that characterize the emotions (Lerner and Keltner 2000; Lerner and Keltner
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2001). That is, emotions give rise to an implicit predisposition, or appraisal tendency,
such that people feeling a particular emotion tend to perceive (unrelated) situations in
terms of the appraisals matching those of the emotions: “angry people will view
negative events as predictably caused by, and under the control of, other individuals. In
contrast, fear involves low certainty and a low sense of control, which are likely to
produce a perception of negative events as unpredictable and situationally determined
(Lerner et al. 2015: 807).
Emotions of Crisis and Populism
Although populism has been a highly contested concept, a growing consensus appears
to have recently emerged around an ideational definition and a minimal set of core
features. These have been succinctly conveyed by Mudde (2004: 543) who defines
populism as a “thin-centered ideology” that “considers society to be separated into two
relatively homogeneous and antagonistic groups, ‘the pure people’ versus ‘the corrupt
elite’, and which argues that politics should be an expression of the volonté générale
(general will) of the people”. Along this path, Stanley (2008: 102) further decomposes
populism into four “distinct but interrelated” constitutive elements: (1) the existence of
two homogeneous groups, the people and the elite; (2) the praise of the people and the
denigration of the elite; (3) the antagonistic relationship between the people and the
elite; and (4) the idea of popular sovereignty. Accordingly, populism is conceived of as
a Manichean view that sees politics as the struggle between the worthy people’s
commonsense and the harmful, self-serving power elite––a view that is deeply
suspicious of any constitutional restraints to the democratic principle and hence
advocates for the absolute primacy of popular sovereignty.
A moment’s reflection should reveal a number of connections between populism, thus
defined, and anger’s core theme, pattern of appraisals, and related tendencies—but not
with those of fear or sadness. To begin with, we have seen that blame attribution is
central for the emergence of anger. More specifically, feeling anger for the country’s
economy entails that there is certainty about the controllability of the economy and that
responsibility can be ascribed to a particular external agent. Several works have
provided empirical evidence in support of this assumption. For example, Conover and
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Feldman (1986) find that feelings of anger and disgust toward national economic
conditions can be clearly differentiated from those of fear and uneasiness. Their results
show that these distinct emotions have disparate effects on presidential performance
evaluations, such that feelings of anger/disgust tend to have higher an influence on
evaluations than feelings of fear/uneasiness. They suggest that causal attributions play
an important in explaining both the structure and the distinct consequences of people’s
emotional reactions to the economy: the angry perceive the economy as controllable and
hold the government accountable, whereas the fearful do not. More pertinently,
Steenbergen and Ellis (2006) show that aversion (which includes anger) toward the
president is influenced by evaluations of the president’s leadership, but only for those
voters who believe that the economy is controllable, and hence the executive can be
held responsible for its state. Likewise, Wagner (2014) argues that whether it is the
possible to identify the responsible of the threat and whether it is possible to make it
accountable will be the determinant of the type of emotion that eventually arouses. He
demonstrates that British voters were more likely to experience anger rather than fear if
they attributed the responsibility for the financial crisis to an external actor, particularly
if such actor was an institution accountable to them. When citizens feel angry for the
economic situation of the country they are implicitly placing blame on an identifiable
agent other than themselves.
Attribution of responsibility is also remarkably present in populist movements, whose
discourse is dominated by a blame-shifting rhetoric (Vasilopoulou et al. 2014). As
Hameleers et al. (2016) put it, “populism is inherently about attributing blame to others
while absolving the people of responsibility”. Populism typically emerges as a result of
the perceived unresponsiveness of the political system to frustrated popular demands
(Panizza 2005). The responsibility is laid on the establishment, which is characterized
as a unified bloc in opposition to the like-minded people, hence conveniently conveying
the picture of an external actor who prevents the in-group from attaining its goals. Like
anger, populism therefore entails a causal interpretation by which a harm to one’s goals
is blamed outwardly identifiably.
Second, both anger and populism are concerned not only with the responsibility for a
negative event but also with the legitimacy of blame attribution. That is, the causal
attribution is accompanied with a normative judgment. Crucial for the arousal of anger
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is that the outcome is perceived as unfair and unjust, the frustration of one’s deemed
legitimate rewards. It should not have happened on moral grounds, and indeed could
have not happened, since the experience of anger implies that those who are blamed are
perceived to be in control of their actions and capable of having acted otherwise. This
the frustration to be taken as a demeaning offense against one’s self-esteem (Lazarus
1991). Consistently, Steenbergen and Ellis (2006) find moral considerations to be a
primary driver of aversion toward president Clinton, and Capelos (2013) demonstrates
that anger, compared to anxiety, is distinctively elicited by low-integrity candidates.
Anger, as noted by Petersen (2010), pertains to the domain of morality and rule
violation, while fear operates in the domain of hazards; intentionality is particularly
relevant for the moral domain.
Morality also pervades populist discourse: the wickedness of the elite is set in contrast
to the benevolence of the people, and their relationship is defined in antagonistic terms.
Indeed, populism has been described as “a Manichaean outlook that identifies Good
with a unified will of the people and Evil with a conspiring minority” which can be
ultimately understood as “a way of interpreting the moral basis or legitimacy of a
political system” (Hawkins 2010: 8, 15). As much as it is intrinsic to anger, moral
evaluation constitutes a key component of the populist belief system.
Finally, populist attitudes also resonate anger’s characteristic consequences on cognitive
processing and action tendencies. Populism’s simplistic worldview is more likely to
result from superficial consideration and reliance on first impressions than from the
deep, thoughtful processing of contemporaneous information associated with fear and
sadness, which would most often lead to a more nuanced and less categorical outlook.
For example, research shows that, in an effort to reduce heightened levels of
uncertainty, anxiety leads people to put their trust on experts (Albertson and Gadarian
2015), which is at odds with populism’s suspicion towards elitism and its admiration of
ordinary people’s common sense. Populism’s confrontational rhetoric likewise suggests
the influence of feelings of anger, typically leading to an aggressive response, rather
than those of fear or sadness, which would more likely promote avoidance, withdrawal,
or acceptance. In this direction, populist attitudes have been found to be positively
related to political engagement and participation, particularly among the young and
those with lower levels of income (Anduiza et al. 2016).
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Indeed, the understanding of anger conveyed by appraisal theories is reminiscent of
certain characterizations of populist upsurge, and most evidently of Betz’s notion of
ressentiment, or resentment. In examining the conditions that explain the emergence of
populist radical-right parties, he notes that populist politicians mobilize mainly by
appealing to the emotions triggered by grievances: “Populist rhetoric is designed to tap
feelings of ressentiment and exploit them politically” (Betz 2002: 198). Like anger,
Betz’s depiction of popular resentment involves an intense sense of frustration, an
illegitimate harm, the identification of a responsible agent, and the desire to retaliate.
Resentment, in this conventional interpretation, is mostly equivalent to moral anger—an
“emotional opposition to unequal and unjust situations”, which entails legitimate
blame attribution and promotes action against the offender (Demertzis 2006: 105).2
In sum, we expect feelings of anger elicited by the economic crisis to heighten
individuals’ populist attitudes and to enhance their likelihood to turn out in support of
populist parties. By contrast, the appraisal pattern of fear, being the reverse image of
anger’s, might result in a negative influence manifestations of populism. Expectations
about the relationship with sadness are much less clear-cut. On the one hand, the
accompanying appraisals of situational responsibility and low efficacy would make us
think that sadness undermines support for populism, but its alleged influence on
resolution and risk acceptance may working in the opposite direction.
Empirical Strategy
Our data come from an 8-wave online panel survey of young and middle-aged Spanish
residents. The sample was selected from an online pool set up through active
recruitment of potential subjects in commercial online services and websites. Quotas
were used to ensure a balanced representation in terms of gender, education, size of
municipality, and region. Specifically, our analysis focuses on the waves consecutively
2 The term has been given diverse meanings in the relevant literature. The use of the French
form, ressentiment, typically accompanies Nietzschean-like interpretations where resentment
comes along with resignation and passivity, as compared to the feeling of efficacy and
retaliatory action implied in the generic use (see Demertzis 2006).
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conducted in May of 2014, 2015, and 2016—the ones for which all the required
measurements were included in the questionnaires. Overall, the three waves yield a
sample of 1,529 respondents. The panel is unbalanced due to attrition and wave
nonresponse: 38 percent of the respondents participated in all three occasions and 28
percent did in any two occasions, while 34 percent are observed only once
(average T = 2).
We use two dependent variable indicators of populism at the individual level. First, we
measure individual degrees of populism, independent of support for particular populist
parties. As implied in the conceptualization posited above, populism is ideologically
ubiquitous in nature, meaning that it is rarely manifested in isolation but attached to
full-fledged ideologies on either side of the left-right spectrum. A direct measure of
populist attitudes helps us to better discern the correlates of populism from those of
other ideological features that might occur with it, while also allowing us to capture
more nuanced variations in individuals’ degree of populism that would be masked by
using a measure of vote choice.
Following the growing agreement around the definition of populism, in recent years
several indicators have been suggested to measure populist attitudes at the individual
level (Elchardus and Spruyt 2016; Rooduijn 2014; Stanley 2011). We adopted the six-
item measure proposed by Akkerman et al. (2014), itself developed from previous
efforts by Hawkins and colleagues (Hawkins et al. 2012; Hawkins and Riding 2010).
The six statements, displayed in Table 1, are designed to tap the core ideas that make up
the populist discourse, namely, people-centrism, anti-elitism, the antagonism between
the people and the elite, and the primacy of popular sovereignty. Respondents’
agreement with each of the statements was measured using a seven-point scale running
from “strongly disagree” to “strongly agree”. The internal consistency of the resulting
composite scale (the average score across all items) is good, ranging from 0.71 in 2014
to 0.81 in 2016.
We also examine the behavioral side of the emotional influence by using intended
support for Podemos as an additional dependent variable. This is a dichotomous
variable distinguishing respondents who express their intention to vote for Podemos in
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an upcoming general election from those who would chose otherwise (including
abstention).3
To measure emotional reactions to the crisis, respondents were asked to report how
much, on a five-point Likert scale ranging from “very much” to “not at all”, the
situation of economic crisis made them feel anxiety, rage, powerlessness, fear, and
sadness. The average levels displayed in Table 2 indicate that all these emotions were
the most widely felt over the whole period, but rage and powerlessness consistently
obtained the highest scores while anxiety and fear obtained the lowest, sadness staying
in between the two clusters. The average pairwise correlations between the expressed
emotions across waves (2013 through 2016), shown in Table 3, indicate that, while all
the items are positively correlated, those between rage and powerlessness, on the one
hand, and between fear and anxiety, on the other, clearly stand out. Based on these
results, as well as on the semantic content of the terms, we constructed a scale of anger
combining the rage and powerlessness items, and a scale of fear combining the fear and
anxiety items. Our measure of sadness relies solely on its own item.
In addition to emotional reactions, our model includes controls for respondents’ gender,
age, education (less than secondary, first level of secondary, second level of secondary,
university), employment status (unemployed), income (coded in deciles of the national
income distribution). In order to account for the (markedly leftist) leaning of the
populist movement in Spain, ideological orientation is also added as a predictor, using a
measure of self-placement on an 11-point left-right scale.
The fixed-effects model is generally the preferred choice for the analysis of panel data
(Allison 2009) and here we rely on its estimations for the most part of our empirical
analyses. Fixed-effects estimators control for unobserved individual, time-invariant
3 In addition to different electoral alliances at the regional level, Podemos formed a coalition
with United Left (Izquierda Unida, IU) to run in the 2016 general election, under the name of
Unidos Podemos. Although this arrangement was certain to happen at the time when our 2016
wave was conducted, it had not been formally established yet, so each party was coded
separately in the questionnaire. Accordingly, our vote variable codes intended IU supporters
along with to those of Podemos for the 2016 wave, but not in the previous ones. Results do not
change substantively when IU supporters are given the alternative category.
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heterogeneity that may be correlated with the explanatory variable and use only within-
person variation to estimate the effects of the independent variables. That is, they assess
the association between changes in the explanatory variable and changes in the outcome
variable within individuals, thus controlling for permanent characteristics that vary
across individuals. Fixed-effects estimators consequently avoid the (often unrealistic)
random-effects assumption that the observed predictors in the model are uncorrelated
with the unobserved time-constant heterogeneity. However, they do so at the cost of
ignoring all between-person variation. In order to allow for the effects of stable
characteristics to be estimated, we use a within-between random effects model for the
analysis of the populist attitudes indicator, which has some advantages over
conventional fixed- and random-effects models (Bell and Jones 2015). The within-
between random effects model uses variation occurring both within and between
individuals to estimate the coefficients of the independent variables but, unlike the
conventional random-effects approach, it simultaneously estimates separate within- and
between-person effects, rather than producing a weighted average of the two. This is
accomplished by including the person-specific means of time-varying predictors
(representing their between effects) and the individual deviations from these
(representing their within effects), along with any time-constant predictors, in a random-
effects model:
𝑦!" =𝛽!+𝛽!𝑥!" 𝑥!+𝛽!𝑥!+𝛽!𝑧!+𝜐!+𝜀!" (1)
Here, subscript i denotes individuals and t denotes occasions, 𝑦!" is the dependent
variable, 𝑥!" is a series of time-varying independent variables, and 𝑧! is a series of time-
constant independent variables that only vary between individuals. 𝛽! represent within
effects, while 𝛽! and 𝛽! represent between effects.
As long as our key independent variables are concerned, this specification allows us to
separate the impact of transient emotional reactions to the crisis from that of more
enduring emotions, be they lasting sentiments toward the crisis or general affective
traits, understood as tendencies or dispositions rooted in personality to experience
particular emotional states (Ben-Ze’ev 2001). “Typical” or “hot” emotions are
characteristically brief, intense, instable, and specific. The within effects of our
emotional scales may be thought as capturing such transient episodes, unusual
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deviations from one’s typical affective state, while between effects can be interpreted as
the influence of more persistent individual differences in their feelings toward the
economic crisis, due either to the development of specific sentiments toward it or to a
chronic disposition to react in a certain affective manner.
Since, unlike the measure of populist attitudes, the party support indicator is
dichotomous, a binary response (e.g., logit) model must be used, which implies that the
within-between model no longer produces the same results as the fixed-effects model
for the within effect, and both within and between effects can be biased if stable
individual characteristics are omitted. We thus opted to use a conventional fixed-effects
model for the analysis of populist party support, as this produces consistent estimates of
the within effect, even if we are then left out without an estimation of the between
effects (Allison 2014).
Results
Table 4 contains the results of the within-between random effects models of populist
attitudes. The dependent variable, the scale of populist attitudes, is coded from 1 (lowest
level of populism) to 7 (highest populism). All independent variables except age (in
years) have been rescaled to range from a minimum of 0 to a maximum of 1. As noted
above, between effects represent the estimated effects of average values of the
independent variables for each individual, while within effects represent deviations
from these average values for each observation of each individual. This allows to assess
the overall effect of being more or less angry, fearful, or sad, as an individual (between
effects), and the effect of changing levels of anger, anxiety, or sadness along time
within the same individual (within effects).
The results of model 1, which includes only the control variables, show that age has a
positive effect within but not between individuals, indicating that becoming older
increases the levels of populism but being older does not have a significant effect
although the former effect clearly outweighs the latter. Similarly, a within-person
increase in the attained level of education has a positive effect on support for populism,
but being more educated does not have a significant effect. Being on the left of the
16
ideological spectrum comes with higher levels of populism. This, in fact, is the variable
with the largest coefficient in our model. Yet, within-person changes in ideological self-
placement do not significantly affect levels of populism. Finally, income and
unemployment appear to be unrelated to on populist attitudes.
Model 2 adds the emotional reactions to the crisis. The results show that, in line with
our expectations, feelings of anger are consistently positively associated with populist
attitudes. The within effect indicates that, controlling for the effects of all time-constant
differences between individuals, increases in the level of anger are associated with
increases in the levels of populism. The between effect is also statistically significant,
and substantially stronger: individuals that have a persistent tendency to experience
higher levels of anger tend to display also higher levels of populist attitudes. The
influence of fear and sadness is much smaller, confined to the between estimate, and
only at significant at the p < 0.1 level. As expected, individuals with higher average
levels of fear tend to express lower levels of populism, whereas individuals with a
persistent tendency to be sad for the crisis tend to score slightly higher on the populist
attitudes scale.
The inclusion of the emotional reactions to the crisis reverses the sign of both the within
and between effects of education, such that attaining more education now appears to be
associated with higher support for populism while being on average more educated
becomes a negative influence. Also remarkably, the within effect of left-right
orientation completely vanishes, which suggests that it was capturing the effect of
changes in anger, and average differences in ideology between individuals become
significantly related to populist attitudes. According to the model’s estimates, then,
being on the left is associated with higher levels of populism, but leftward individual
movements over time do not have the same effect.
Table 5 contains the results of the fixed-effects logit models of Podemos vote
intentions. As noted above, the estimates are restricted to the influence of intra-
individual changes in the predictor variables, holding constant differences across
individuals. Aging appears to enhance support for Podemos, although the estimates are
most likely reflecting the party’s breakthrough produced the period covered by the
panel, and particularly the dramatic growth between 2014 and 2015. The likelihood of a
17
populist vote is significantly diminished both by increases in income and by ideological
shifts to the right. The effect of the control variables remains or is even enhanced after
the inclusion of emotional reactions.
Model 2 estimates show that changes in anger within individuals have a positive
significant effect on the intended support for Podemos—a finding that is consistent with
the corresponding results of the populist attitudes model, corroborating the
characterization of populism as essentially connected with anger. On the other hand,
changes in the levels of fear reduce the likelihood of a Podemos vote, which is in line
with the negative between effect on attitudes but not with its null within effect. The
results thus suggest that deviations from average levels of fear influence behavioral
intentions but fail to affect levels of populist attitudes. This apparent contradiction
might be suggesting that the negative effect of fear is mainly driven by—and perhaps
restricted to—the behavioral avoidance tendency that typically comes with it. Finally,
the estimates indicate that, as observed in the attitudes model, populist support is
unaffected by intra-individual changes in sadness.
Discussion
This paper examined how individual levels of populist attitudes are related to their
emotional reactions to the economic crisis. Following the insights from recent research
in emotions, and particularly cognitive appraisal theories, we hypothesized that discrete
negative emotions toward the economic crisis would have differentiated effects on
populist attitudes. It was argued that populism is intimately linked to anger’s appraisal
pattern and cognitive and behavioral consequences. In line with our expectations, the
empirical analysis showed that both populist attitudes and support for the populists at
the polls are dominated by feelings of anger. Differences in the average tendency to
experience anger are positively associated with individual levels of populism, and
within-person deviations from typical states of anger are consequential for populist
attitudes and support. Feelings of fear, by contrast, display a negative and more
moderate relationship with our measures of populism. People with a disposition to
experience fear toward the economic crisis appear to be on average slightly less likely to
embrace a populist stance. Since fear is an emotion that elicits withdrawal, intra-
18
individual increases in fear are significantly related to a lower likelihood to vote for
Podemos, but no effect is found on levels of populist attitudes. Finally, we found some
evidence that populist attitudes might vary positively with average differences in
sadness, yet intra-individual changes over time have no effect neither on attitudes nor
on vote choice.
Even if the use of fixed-effects methods of longitudinal significantly reduces the threats
to causal inference, the empirical evidence provided in this paper does not intend to be
the basis for strong causal claims. Emotional states of anger (or fear) may enhance (or
depress) populism, as we have seen. However, populism, most probably, also amplifies
feelings of anger and resentment by emphasizing blame and injustice. Populist
discourses may also be held responsible for individuals holding anger rather than fear or
sadness when thinking about the economic situation. Although in this piece we have
focused on how emotions connect with populism, the emotional reactions to populism
can also be tested explicitly.
Spain is a particularly adequate case to test the dynamics between negative emotions
generated by a severe economic crisis, on the one hand, and the upsurge of populism
that has involved major changes in the party system, on the other hand. As it is to be
expected considering the ideological location of the party that holds a populist profile in
the Spanish party system (Podemos), individuals that hold left positions are consistently
more populist in our results. Our data do not allow to make inferences beyond Spanish
case, but the interpretation of our results regarding anger is consistent with other
expressions of populism, and by no means confined to the Podemos phenomenon. We
expect that anger connects with right-wing populism in the same way as it does with
left-wing populism, through the emphasis on appraisals of blame and injustice. In fact,
previous work has considered resentment more often in connection to nationalism and
racism. Resentment has been put in relation to anti-welfare populism (Hoggett et al.
2013) and, more generally, to the populist radical right (Betz 1993). Symbolic racism in
the US has been shown to be more strongly connected with anger, by virtue of a
responsibility appraisal that ascribes blacks’ disadvantages to their lack of motivation,
than to anxiety prompted by threats of resource redistribution (Banks and Valentino
2012). Hence, we also expect our findings to be of use to when considering emotions
19
induced by objects other than the economic crisis, such as immigration or terrorism,
which are particularly connected with right wing populism.
20
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Table 1. Measurement of populist attitudes
2014
2015
2016
The politicians in the Spanish parliament need to
follow the will of the people
5,7
5,5
5,7
The people, and not politicians, should make our
most important policy decisions
5,4
5,1
5,2
The political differences between the elite and the
people are larger than the differences among the
people
4,8
5,0
5,0
I would rather be represented by a citizen than by
a specialized politician
4,8
4,7
4,6
Elected officials talk too much and take too little
action
5,9
5,9
6,0
What people call “compromise” in politics is
really just selling out on one’s principles
4,0
4,2
4,4
Populist attitudes scale
5,1
5,0
5,1
(N)
(1,071)
(1,014)
(1,040)
Note: Average scores as measured on a scale from 1 (strongly disagree) to 7 (strongly agree).
26
Table 2. Emotional reactions to the economic crisis
2013
2015
Rage
4.2
4.0
Powerlessness
4.2
4.1
Fear
3.6
3.5
Anxiety
3.4
3.3
Sadness
3.9
3.8
(N)
(1,757)
(1,014)
Note: Average scores as measured on a scale from 1 (not at all) to 5 (very much).
Table 3. Average correlations between emotions
Rage
Powerlessness
Fear
Powerlessness
0.71
Fear
0.44
0.53
Anxiety
0.48
0.52
0.65
Sadness
0.51
0.53
0.54
Note: Average Pearson’s correlation coefficients across four waves between 2013 and 2016.
27
Table 4. Within-Between Random Effects Models of Populist Attitudes
Model 1
Model 2
Within
effects
Between
effects
Within
effects
Between
effects
Female
0.06
-0.02
(0.05)
(0.05)
Age (years)
0.01***
0.02
0.02
0.01*
(0.00)
(0.02)
(0.02)
(0.00)
Education
-0.15**
0.54**
0.49**
-0.12*
(0.07)
(0.21)
(0.21)
(0.06)
Unemployed
0.10
0.10
0.09
0.05
(0.07)
(0.06)
(0.06)
(0.07)
Income
-0.08
-0.03
0.01
0.08
(0.15)
(0.16)
(0.15)
(0.15)
Left-right placement
-1.40***
-0.18
-0.13
-1.06***
(0.14)
(0.18)
(0.18)
(0.14)
Anger
0.49***
1.26***
(0.13)
(0.15)
Fear
-0.04
-0.24*
(0.13)
(0.13)
Sadness
0.13
0.22*
(0.10)
(0.13)
Constant
5.40***
4.40***
(0.15)
(0.17)
Observations / individuals
3’100 / 1’524
3’100 / 1’524
Unstandardized regression coefficients with standard errors in parentheses.
* p < .1, ** p < .05, *** p < .01
28
Table 5. Fixed-Effects Models of Podemos Vote Intention
Model 1
Model 2
Age (years)
1.81***
1.89***
(0.16)
(0.18)
Education
0.12
0.01
(1.51)
(1.55)
Unemployed
-0.57
-0.56
(0.44)
(0.47)
Income
-1.85*
-2.40**
(1.09)
(1.17)
Left-right placement
-3.00***
-2.81**
(1.14)
(1.15)
Anger
2.46**
(1.02)
Fear
-1.94**
(0.99)
Sadness
0.08
(0.66)
Observations / individuals
661 / 256
661 / 256
Coefficients from logit models with standard errors in parentheses.
* p < .1, ** p < .05, *** p < .01
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It is strange to think that the political sociology of emotions is quite immature when compared with the enormous growth of the sociology of emotion over the last 25 years or so (Kemper, 1990, 1991; Barbalet, 1998; Williams, 2001). Scholars have only recently brought emotions back in the analysis of social and political movements, power relations and institutions (Goodwin, Jasper and Polletta 2001; Holmes, 2004; Ost, 2004; Marcus, 2002; Berezin, 2002). Even so, a robust political sociology of emotions is far from being to the fore. I could make a claim analogous to a statement made by Jack Barbalet (2002, p. 6) with regard to the sociology of emotions: even before the advent of the term, the political sociology of emotions, the centrality of emotion and the role of particular feelings in politics had been recognized. The marginalization of emotions and feelings1 in political sociology up to now is in a large degree the result of: (a) the stripping of the dimension of passion from the political because it was associated with romantic and utopian conceptions unrelated to the modern public sphere as well as because of the more or less instrumental and neutral-procedural conception of politics, a popular view at the end of the 1960s as well as today (Habermas, 1970; Mouffe, 2000); (b) the supremacy of ‘interest’ as opposed to ‘passion’ as an explaining factor of political action, already in effect in the middle of the eighteenth century (Hirschman, 2003); (c) the dominance, for many years, of the rational choice paradigm in a very large number of political science departments in the USA and Europe, in the context of which emotions are either conceived as irrational elements or taken as objective traits which do not affect the actor’s, by definition, ‘rational’ thinking (Barbalet, 1998, pp. 29ff; Williams, 2001, pp. 15–16); and (d) the mistreatment of emotions even in the political culture paradigm, the great rival of rational choice (Barry, 1970; Eckstein, 1988), due to the prevalence of quantitative methodologies according to which the affective dimension has been shrunken into a numeric item or variable.
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