A Call to Arms: How 'Fighting' Words Mobilize Political Participation with Aggression
43 Pages Posted: 1 Aug 2011 Last revised: 15 Sep 2011
Date Written: 2011
Politicians on the campaign trail regularly communicate with metaphors of fighting and war, yet little is known about how citizens respond to such appeals. This study demonstrates that violent political rhetoric substantially changes citizens’ motivations to participate in politics by channeling aggression. I field two nationally-representative survey experiments preceding the 2010 midterm elections in which subjects are randomly assigned to different forms of the same political advertisements. I find that violent metaphors increase participation motivations among citizens with aggressive personalities who trust the electoral process, especially for higher-cost acts like voting. Aggressive citizens who distrust elections are demobilized by violent rhetoric. These results uncover new mechanisms by which political campaigns mobilize citizens and show that violent language and aggression in politics can encourage democratically desirable behavior. However, the same processes also promote troubling orientations toward violence in politics, revealing a double-edged sword.
Keywords: violent political rhetoric, trait aggression, participation
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