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date: 25 May 2020

Affect and Political Choice

Abstract and Keywords

Whether political observers and participants applaud or decry the presence of emotions in political decision-making, scholars have begun to view the relationship between affect and reason as a key component of decision-making. This chapter provides an overview of the research on affect and political choice. The authors argue that emotions undergird acts of political choice, not simply as additional variables to explain preferences or actions but also as integral to the processing of information and decision-making. They briefly define affect, emotion and mood and outline some of the methodologies commonly used to measure each of the four emotion functions that are central to political communication and choice. These four functions of emotion – expressive, perceptual/attentional, appraisal, and behavioral – are discussed in relation to political decision-making.

Keywords: affect, emotion, mood, affective intelligence, appraisal, decision-making, voting, framing, agenda-setting, political advertising


After watching an Al-Jazeera interview with a leader of the recent revolution in Egypt, an observer was quoted as saying that his emotions “exploded.” The man turned off his television and immediately traveled to Tahrir Square in Cairo to take part in the protests that eventually toppled the decades-long regime of Hosni Mubarak (Faheem and El-Naggar, 2011). Now imagine a political world without emotions.1 Every human being resembles Dr. Spock, the famously rational character from the television series Star Trek. Facial expressions reveal little affect and decisions regarding how to govern are not made with concern for feelings, or out of fear or compassion. Because emotions are integral to the political process, such a world is difficult to comprehend. Emotions are present at all stages of politics, influencing the decision-making processes of political leaders, media, and the public.

From ancient political philosophy to current political events and cutting-edge research in the neurosciences, affect, emotion, and mood are seen as an essential part of politics and political choices. In Rhetoric, Aristotle states that “the Emotions are all those feelings that so change men as to affect their judgments … ” (91). His observations are borne out in a plethora of examples—from Barack Obama building a campaign theme around the discrete emotion of hope to his political opponents in the Tea Party movement unifying around anger; from the hate-filled burning of a copy of the Koran by a Florida minister to the outrage of those in Afghanistan who killed American soldiers in revenge. Whether political observers and participants applaud or decry the presence of emotions in political decision-making, scholars have begun to view the relationship between affect and reason as a key component of decision-making. In this chapter, we argue that emotions undergird acts of political choice, not simply as additional variables (p. 664) to explain preferences or actions but also as integral to the processing of information and decision-making.

The Social Construction of Emotion

This chapter takes a constructionist view of the role of emotions in political choice. Even staunch social choice theorists emphasize the importance of the social construction of rationality to theories of behavior and decision-making (Arrow, 1986). Governing officials, political activists, journalists, and members of the public participate in a dynamic process of constructing political messages and meanings. With increasingly active social media, the construction of messages is not limited to political elites, but is open to anyone who might blog, use Facebook to share media stories, post YouTube videos, or tweet. Political meanings are also interpreted by all who are involved in making political choices. Participants decide what to pay attention to, judge the value of messages, weigh options, form preferences, reach decisions, and decide whether to act. Political choices are made by participants at each of these decision points in the process. Affect, emotion, and mood are important throughout—shaping expression, drawing attention, guiding judgments, and motivating actions.

Many political scientists think that political choices can be explained by individual preferences (e.g., Arrow, 1951; Downs, 1957), political partisanship (e.g., Campbell et al., 1960), or institutional arrangements (e.g., Schickler, 2001; Hacker, 2004). Why include measures of emotion in otherwise parsimonious models of political choice? Emotion is central to how people think, reason, and act (Damasio, 1994; Marcus et al., 2000; Lupia et al., 2000; Redlawsk, 2006; Neuman et al., 2007a; Brader and Marcus, 2013; Nussbaum, 2013). As research reviewed in this chapter illustrates, affect, emotion, and mood are vital to explaining four basic aspects of political choice, including: expressive, perceptual/attentional, appraisal, and behavioral ways of coping with the political world.2 Emotions function as critical factors of political choice by explaining how people communicate about politics, how they seek information and learn, how they make judgments and form preferences, and how they participate.

To review the state of the field regarding emotion and political choice, the chapter begins with a brief definition of the terms and their measurement—both individually and collectively and preconsciously and consciously. The majority of the chapter analyzes the four basic emotion functions of political choice: expressive, perceptual/attentional, appraisal, and behavioral. Political communication questions and theories of emotion and political choice draw on multiple emotion functions. For example, George Marcus and his colleagues’ affective intelligence theory (AIT) seeks to explain perceptual/attentional, appraisal, and behavioral functions of emotion (Marcus et al., 2000; Neuman et al., 2007a). The chapter concludes with recommendations and avenues for future research on affect and political choice.

(p. 665) Defining Affect, Emotion, and Mood

Intellectual histories of affect, emotion, and mood illustrate the difficulty scholars have had in establishing consensus definitions of the terms.3 While there have been heated exchanges about whether emotion or cognition comes first in the processing of information, many current scholars argue that affect occurs both automatically or preconsciously—as well as consciously (Lazarus 1982; Zajonc, 1984; Murphy and Zajonc, 1993; Lerner and Keltner, 2000; Lodge and Taber, 2005; Lau and Redlawsk, 2006; Just et al., 2007; Redlawsk et al., 2007).4 Affect is the experience of feeling emotions, which is often measured in directional or evaluative valence terms. Emotions are the relatively short-term states or longer-term traits of individuals or groups, which typically contain multiple components—perceptual, cognitive or evaluative, expressive, physiological/neurological, or behavioral (Planalp, 1999; Myers, 2004; Crigler and Just, 2012).5 Emotions are measured in three different ways: categorical (discrete emotions such as happiness or sadness), valence (directional, as in positive or negative), or circumplex (Heilman, 1997; Plutchik and Conte, 1997; Marcus et al., 2000; Marcus, 2003; Weber, 2013). Circumplex models of emotion provide a multidimensional analytic structure to capture emotional response. One variant of the two-dimensional scheme has positivity-negativity along one axis dimension and levels of arousal along another. Another has positivity and negativity as orthogonal dimensions (Neuman et al., 2007b). Although closely related, emotion and mood differ in that emotions are usually stimulated by an identifiable target. Mood refers to a diffuse affective state experienced by individuals or groups. Although moods come and go, they are longer-lasting than emotions and can manifest themselves at the individual or group levels (Rahn and Hirshorn, 1999, Rahn, 2000).6

Measurement and Empirical Approaches

Understanding the interplay between emotion and political choice is difficult. Affect, emotion, and mood enter into the decision stream spontaneously at every stage of the process. A social constructionist approach to emotion and political choice acknowledges that emotions occur at multiple levels—from the firing of nerve synapses in the brain to the moods of large populations. This poses significant challenges for measurement, requiring clear specification and the use of multiple methods (Crigler and Just, 2012). Table 46.1 outlines some of the methodologies most commonly used to measure each of the four emotion functions that are central to political choice.

Table 46.1. Measurements of Emotional Functions in Political Choice.

Emotion Functions



Content analysis

  • Verbal

  • Nonverbal

Discourse analysis


Physiological/neurological measures



  • Implicit Association Tests (IAT)





Focus Group





Expressive functions are examined through the verbal and nonverbal messages conveyed in politics. Studies of affective framing and political leaders’ communications that (p. 666) employ content analysis and discourse analysis are included in this part of the chapter. The content analyses may be quantitative or qualitative, historical or contemporary. They require the examination of words and images, and also of tone, facial expressions, sounds, music, color, and symbols.

Perceptual/attentional functions center on the individual and his/her conscious and pre-conscious processing of emotions. These functions are evident in studies of subliminal messaging, newsworthiness, and agenda setting. Physiological and neurological measures (e.g., eye-tracking, galvanic skin response, heart rates, functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), PET scans, or studies of patients with particular brain lesions) yield direct observations of bodily functions that are often associated with particular emotional responses (see Coronel, 2010; Daignault et al., 2013). On one hand, these methods are useful in that they do not require individuals to put words to their embodied feelings. On the other hand, different emotions may elicit similar bodily responses (e.g., tears of joy or sadness) so that the interpretation of these tests depends on the researcher’s ability to evaluate the results in the proper context. Perceptual/attentional functions are also measured through surveys and experiments. The survey and experimental questions are of two basic types. The first includes self-reports in response to open—or closed-ended questions about emotional responses, and the second, Implicit Association Tests (IAT), measures the amount of time required to pair emotions and objects (Greenwald et al., 1998). An advantage of the IAT is that it obviates social desirability responses, replacing conscious choices with more subtle, and arguably accurate, measures of emotional appraisals.

(p. 667) Appraisal functions center on the forming of political judgments and preferences. This section reviews debates about theories of emotion and appraisal of candidates and policies. Emotional appraisals are made by individuals or groups based on evaluating political situations in relation to one’s values, identities, and goals (Lazarus, 1991; Mackie et al., 2004; Smith et al., 2007). Appraisals can be both preconscious and conscious. Individual and group emotional appraisals are most often measured by survey or experimental methods, although focus groups and individual interviews are also used to elaborate on groups’ emotional interactions and individuals’ more nuanced emotional responses.

Behavioral functions of emotion are often outcomes of political choices that focus on the actions or proclivities to act politically. Information seeking and voter turnout are two examples of political behaviors that benefit from considering the emotional components of choice. Ethnographic and observational methods are used to measure actual emotions and behaviors as they occur. Surveys reveal respondents’ self-reports of actions or tendencies to act. These methods are limited in establishing clear causal links between emotions and behaviors. Experiments address this deficiency by testing specific causal relations between elicited emotions and actions. Recent research has embedded experiments in surveys to improve the causality of surveys and generalizability of experiments.

To capture these four emotion functions of political choice, both preconsciously and consciously and at the individual and group levels, multiple methods are appropriate and necessary. This is especially true as researchers seek to analyze how emotional expressions and perceptions translate into judgments and actions.

Four Functions of Emotion in Political Choice

Expressive Functions

The capacity to express feelings is fundamental to the human experience and is an essential part of politics (Lane, 2001). Representative democracy depends on the ability of citizens and leaders to convey priorities and inspire and understand one another. This is evident in political campaigns where messages are often fraught with emotions (Kern, 1989; Redlawsk et al., 2014; Huddy et al., 2015). For example, Kaid and Johnston’s content analysis of fifty years of presidential political advertising finds that 84 percent of ads made verbal or nonverbal emotional appeals (2001, 55). Brader’s analysis of 1,425 presidential, gubernatorial, and congressional ads for the 2000 campaign finds that nearly 75 percent contained a strong emotional appeal (Brader 2006, 171). Emotionally expressive content in political communications fundamentally affects how people pay attention to politics, how they appraise people and issues, and how they behave.

(p. 668) Affective Framing

Many scholars have focused on elites’ messages to the public, analyzing the emotive and persuasive powers of leaders’ appeals and framing of political coverage. Literature has begun to identify the role emotion plays in the processes underlying framing effects.7 An example of the impact of affective framing lies in the emotional assessments of different types of frames (e.g., episodic versus thematic).8 Experiments by Gross (2008) and Aarøe (2011) find that frames elicit particular emotional responses in viewers and lead to different feelings about policies. Gross finds that episodically framed stories about minimum sentencing stimulate emotions such as sympathy and pity and lead to different policy recommendations than thematic frames because of the emotional impact of episodic frames. Similarly, Aarøe conducts experiments concerning a controversial Danish immigration law and finds that people are more likely to be persuaded by episodic frames than thematic frames, due to the fact they elicit emotional reactions from study participants (208).

Political Leaders and Expression

In addition to verbal content, expressive functions of emotion are often conveyed visually through images, sound and faces.9 Ekman’s foundational work on human faces shows that similar facial expressions are used to convey similar emotions even across different cultures.10 How expressed emotions are perceived and “read” is vital to how leaders are judged, whether they are trusted, and ultimately to whether they are supported (Zebrowitz and Montepare, 2005). Extending Ekman’s work, scholars argue that emotive expressions shape judgments of candidates across political contexts. In a series of articles, Masters and Sullivan find that American and French voters respond similarly to facial images of leaders, but Americans rely on personal characteristics and respond to emotive displays of happiness, while the French rely more on ideology and respond to displays of anger and threat (1989, 1991, and 1996). Lawson and colleagues’ experiments extend the work of Ekman and Masters and Sullivan in two important ways (2010). First, they find that American and Indian subjects were able to predict election outcomes in Mexico and Brazil based on competence judgments of candidate faces, which suggests that expressive content translates across cultures. Second, like Masters and Sullivan, they find that political institutions play a role in how voters respond to expressive content of candidates. For example, Mexican gubernatorial and presidential elections are governed by plurality-winner rules. As a result, the authors find that candidate appearance matters more in those elections than in Mexican senate races, where candidates are primarily evaluated as party members (562). By using pictures of candidates who were unfamiliar to subjects, these findings dispel concerns that emotional appraisals are merely rationalizations of underlying preferences.

Perceptual/Attentional Functions

Emotion plays a key role in helping people determine the amount of attention to pay to the political process. When people pay attention to politics, they are more likely to (p. 669) participate politically. Research reveals that when people feel anxious, new sources of information are more likely to draw their attention, which diminishes reliance on preexisting habits (such as partisanship) (Marcus et al., 2000; Neuman et al., 2007a, b).

Subliminal Advertising and Precognitive Stimuli

The expression of emotion in political messages need not be recognized consciously to be effective. For example, subliminal messages in political advertising can preconsciously affect people as “precognitive” stimuli, meaning that voters have processed information and have been unaware of it.11 In the 2000 US presidential campaign, the Republican National Committee ran an ad for George W. Bush against Al Gore that focused on Gore’s prescription drug plan for seniors. The word “RATS” appeared for a fraction of a second as the narrator claimed that “bureaucrats decide.” In separate experiments, researchers found that people who viewed the subliminal “RATS” ad were less likely to trust Democrats to protect Medicare and less likely to support Gore than those who saw the ad without the “RATS” prime (Stewart and Schubert, 2006). To isolate the impact of the “RATS” prime, Westen and Weinberger ran an Internet experiment flashing “RATS” or its anagram, “STAR,” before a photograph of an unknown candidate. The “RATS” prime led to significantly more negative ratings (Westen, 2007). These findings demonstrate the power of preconscious appraisals to shaping political choices.

Newsworthiness and Attention

Emotion also explains both why journalists perceive the importance of news stories (Fuller, 2010) and why people are more prone to pay attention to particular news (Graber, 2007). For journalists, newsworthiness is driven not only by market forces, but affective components, suggesting continued support for Gans’s (1979) “if it bleeds, it leads” account of news programming (Fuller, 2010). Fuller argues that faced with an explosive increase in the availability of information, news media find themselves ratcheting up the emotional content of stories (2010, 72). Although journalists take for granted the fact that emotional content causes people to pay attention to stories, scholars have only recently begun to examine the mechanisms by which stories capture the public’s attention. One way is that journalists indicate the importance of stories through repetition and placement within news coverage. Another is arousal. Graber’s experiments using emotionally arousing news stories demonstrate that people are more likely to pay attention to fear-arousing stories, supporting AIT’s finding that attention can be aroused through fear (2007).

Agenda Setting

The perceptual/attentional function of emotion helps to explain the processes underlying agenda-setting research. Agenda-setting theory argues that mass media influence the political process by affecting the salience of issues in the mind of the public (see for examples McCombs and Shaw, 1972; Kosicki, 1993; Dearing and Rogers, 1996; Young, 2003; McCombs and Reynolds, 2009; Gonzalez-Bailon et al., 2012). Including affect and emotion in agenda-setting studies explains the mechanisms by which agenda-setting effects occur and why the magnitude of the effects varies. Valence measures of emotions have been used to explain (p. 670) the causal mechanism of agenda-setting effects. In an experiment involving news stories about crime statistics, Miller finds that when media exposure leads a person to have more negative than positive emotions about an issue, the person is more likely to rate the issue as nationally important (2007, 702). Similarly, Sheafer’s experiment in the context of Israeli national elections finds that as negative news coverage of the Israeli economy increases, subjects grow more likely to name the economy as Israel’s most pressing public problem (2007).

Appraisal Functions

Appraisal functions comprise the bulk of research on affect and political choice. Here the literature is interdisciplinary, with publications in neuroscience, psychology, communication, economics, and political science showing how emotions are central to citizens’ evaluations of political candidates, groups, and issues.12 In this section we highlight two key aspects of the role of emotion in candidate and policy evaluations to illustrate that scholarship in the field of emotion and political appraisal remains far from settled.

Affective Intelligence Theory, Emotions, and Appraisal

AIT argues that people have dual emotion systems of disposition and surveillance that govern both thought and behavior (Marcus et al., 2000, 9). The disposition system is associated with enthusiasm and habitual behaviors. Anxiety and fear arouse the surveillance system, alerting people to possible threats. Marcus and colleagues’ analyses of survey and quasi-experimental data from US presidential elections demonstrate that when respondents feel threatened or anxious, they make appraisals by relying more on current information and assessments and less on habitual preferences or ideology. This finding has evoked much debate (see Brader, 2005, 2006, 2011; cf. Ladd and Lenz, 2011). Banks uses AIT to examine the effects of anger on racial and nonracial attitudes toward the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and finds that anger uniquely increases the impact of racial attitudes on healthcare opinions (Banks, 2014).

Fundamental theoretical and methodological issues of AIT are at the heart of recent controversies. Ladd and Lenz argue that AIT’s theory of dual emotion systems unnecessarily complicates the role of emotion in vote choice (2008, 2011). Instead, they contend that discrete conceptions of emotion are sufficient to explaining vote choice, because the discrete emotions directly affect comparative evaluations of political candidates.13 Importantly, they examine the direct effects of emotion on preferences without considering how emotion shapes expression, perception, or behavior. The dual-processing system of AIT argues that emotion has important indirect effects (for example, suppositions that enthusiasm leads to participation, aversion pushes avoidance, and anxiety triggers learning) (Marcus et al., 2011, 331).

Candidate Appraisals

Whether emotions’ roles directly persuade or indirectly affect surveillance, voters appraise political candidates in microseconds and also over the course of long campaigns. Affective appraisal works preconsciously, as evidenced by research that shows close correlations between rapid affective judgments of candidate competence and (p. 671) actual election outcomes (Todorov et al., 2005; Ballew and Todorov, 2007; Mattes et al., 2010; Lodge and Taber 2013).14 Balmas and Sheafer conduct experiments and content analyses in the 2006 Israeli elections to argue that the affective tone of news coverage of candidate attributes primes the electorate through second-level agenda setting (2010). They argue that the most salient attributes of candidates stay with voters as they enter the voting booth, influencing their final judgments and vote choices.

Appraisals of People, Issues, and Groups

Emotional appeals are particularly influential on individuals’ appraisals made on the basis of group identity. Although we have discussed the role of anxiety and threat in leading to positive actions, other research argues that they can also lead to negative behaviors. Studying the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, Halperin and co-authors conduct surveys of Israeli individuals’ appraisals of out-groups and find that the discrete emotion of hatred leads to political intolerance, particularly during periods of heightened threat (2009).15 Researchers have seized upon emotion as an important trigger of attitudes toward policies dealing with in- and out-groups, such as immigration policy (Brader et al., 2008), affirmative action (Kinder and Sanders, 1990), and state voter ID laws (Banks and Hicks, 2015). Brader et al.’s experiments concerning group cues, emotional responses, and immigration policy find that affective reactions can lead to erroneous issue judgments (2008). Group cues regarding immigration policy elicit anxiety among white Americans when they highlight low-skilled Latino migrants and emphasize the negative consequences of immigration. Changes in anxiety, rather than perceived threat, mediate the impact of these cues on public opinion and political behavior (Brader et al., 2008, 975). In the same vein, Kinder and Sanders conduct experiments that mimic elite public discourse to examine the appraisal effects of news coverage of affirmative action policy (1990). They find that frames that trigger the salience of out-groups (e.g., affirmative action unfairly advantages minorities) lead to responses of anger, disgust, and fury. In contrast, frames that trigger the salience of the in-group (e.g., affirmative action is reverse discrimination against whites) lead to appraisals rooted more in the perceived interests of the respondent and less in emotions (Kinder and Sanders, 1990; Visser et al., 2000). Banks and Hicks use experiments to show that fear causes whites high in implicit racism to be more supportive of voter ID laws than similar individuals who are induced to feel anger (Banks and Hicks, 2015).

Group appraisals can also manifest themselves as evaluations of candidates in political campaigns (Huddy and Mason, 2008; Baum et al., 2010). Intergroup emotions theory explains how news stories framed in terms of one candidate’s position vis-à-vis other candidates can evoke fear or anger in the candidate’s supporters, much like the twists and turns of a sporting event can lead to different reactions from fans for each side. For example, because of partisans’ strong group attachment, they react differently to the horse race frames that are common to election coverage (Mackie and Smith, 2003; Baum et al., 2010). Future work should continue to clarify how group cues trigger emotions.

Behavioral Functions

The behavioral functions of emotion play out in many arenas, including information-seeking, voting and intention to vote, group formation and mobilization, and leaders’ (p. 672) policy actions.16 We will focus on only two in this chapter: acquiring information and voter turnout.


As we have seen, Marcus and colleagues’ analyses of survey and quasi-experimental data from US elections find that when respondents feel threatened or anxious, they seek new information (2000). Brader’s experimental analyses argue that fear ads motivate people to pay more attention to related news stories and to seek information from political and non-political sources (Brader, 2006, 144). Extending these results, Valentino and his colleagues’ experimental findings show that anxious subjects not only seek more information, but also retain it better than subjects who are angry (2008). Moreover, when study participants feel anxious about a politician or issue position of their own party, they are more likely to seek a balanced mix of information. In contrast, when people do not feel anxious, they seek information that reinforces their views.

Voter Turnout

The affective components of political advertising have long been the subject of scholarly debate (Ansolabehere et al., 1994; Ansolabehere and Iyengar, 1995; Freedman and Goldstein, 1999; Wattenberg and Brians, 1999; Lau et al., 1999; Goldstein and Ridout, 2004; Geer, 2006; Krupnikov, 2011). Using experiments, Ansolabehere and colleagues find that negatively valenced “attack” advertising depresses intentions to vote (1994). Drawing on surveys, other scholars find that negative ads are associated with higher turnout. These conflicting findings may be reconciled by using more precise conceptions of negativity (Crigler et al., 2006) or emotion (Marcus and MacKuen, 1993; Brader, 2006). Findings based on AIT indicate that enthusiasm appeals in political advertising stimulate citizens’ interest, involvement, and intentions to vote. These examples of the behavioral functions of emotion suggest some of the ways in which emotional judgments of individuals have consequences for political choices and actions. These findings have significant implications, not only for academic audiences but also for political practitioners seeking to move public opinion and citizens seeking to decode political appeals.

Future Avenues for Research

In the process of focusing on the four key functions of emotion in decision-making (i.e., expressive, perceptual/attentional, appraisal, and behavioral), this chapter has considered primarily the roles emotions play in individuals’ political choices. We have shown emotion’s central role in political choice through applications to basic concerns of political communication. These include questions of newsworthiness, framing, agenda setting, priming, attention, preference formation, and electoral participation. Although we (p. 673) have provided key examples of scholarship to illustrate the robustness of the field, we have omitted many others that deserve attention now and in future research. Avenues for further investigation are wide open.

Many of the basic concepts and theories in the field are still contested, including how best to measure affect, emotion, and mood; parse the differences between preconscious and conscious affective processing; analyze levels of emotional functions from the sub-cellular to the large group; and assess automatic, immediate, short-term, and longer-term effects of emotion on choice. Theories of emotion’s roles in political choice abound. In The Affect Effect, the authors named twenty-three theories, models, and central concepts used by the contributors to analyze the dynamic process of emotion in political thinking and behavior (Neuman, Marcus, Crigler and MacKuen, 2007b, 6). The abundance may be daunting, but it also provides enormous opportunities for further research.

Do valence, circumplex (or multidimensional), or discrete measures of emotion better explain different emotion functions in the process of making political choices? Political advertising research has often relied on valence measures to evaluate ads’ persuasive and motivational impacts. Growing research suggests, however, that positive-negative valences fail to capture the different behavioral effects that would be expected from utilizing theories based on discrete or circumplex conceptions of emotion. More work must analyze the short-term and longer-term impacts of emotions such as anxiety and enthusiasm (Brader, 2005), anger (Lerner and Tiedens, 2006), regret (Connolly and Butler, 2006) or hope (Just et al., 2007). This research also must expand across content, political contexts, ideologies, and cultures to see how robust the persuasive effects of political campaign content are.

Disagreements exist about whether emotions lead people (directly or indirectly) to certain political preferences and action or whether people simply rationalize their emotional choices post hoc. These problems of endogeneity are ripe for creative, interdisciplinary, and multi-method research to analyze emotions’ functions throughout the process of making choices—from the framing of expressions, to perception, appraisal, and behavioral responses. More experimental work needs to be done to isolate the independent emotional effects on political choice. Experimental research, however, is limited in that it is often heavily reliant on self-report data that require conscious and verbal expression. For example, immediate (preconscious) judgments might lead to one action, but after thinking about reactions (consciously), subjects might report differently. As a result, the research designs for measuring emotion effects must employ measures to get at both conscious and preconscious processing. Research should use physiological and neurological, as well as implicit and explicit, measures of emotions. Finally, the impact of more illusory nonverbal expressions of emotion and public mood are areas ripe for experimental research both in the lab and in the field. Political communication, with its interests in the expression, communication, and assessment of political messages, should take the lead in exploring the connections among affect, emotion, mood, and political choice.


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(2.) For an example, see Peters et al. (2006), who theorize that affect serves four roles in judgments and decision-making, or Planalp (1999), and Crigler and Just (2012), who describe a componential model of emotions and its role in the political communication process.

(3.) For philosophical debates, see Solomon (2003). For debates in psychology, see Frijda (2010).

(4.) The term cognition is often used as a synonym for information processing; others commonly use it as a synonym for thinking (Marcus et al., 2000). Michael Spezio and Ralph Adolphs (2007) argue that the term cognition is used within most treatments of decision-making to denote “conscious, intentional processes” (76).

(5.) Affect and emotion are often used interchangeably in the political communication literature.

(6.) Mood has been extensively studied in the laboratory using experiments (Schwarz and Clore, 1983; Bless et al., 1992; Peters et al., 2006; Caruso and Shafir, 2006), and we must continue to examine its effects in “real world” political decision-making.

(8.) Episodic frames “present an issue by offering a specific example, case study or event oriented report,” whereas thematic frames place issues in a broader context (Gross, 2008, 171).

(10.) Although some expressions are universal, scholarship demonstrates cross-cultural differences in perception of smiling and non-smiling faces and raised and lowered eyebrows. Keating and co-authors found that among Western experimental subjects, lowered brows are associated with social dominance, whereas among non-Westernized subjects the association between lowered brows and social dominance disappears (1981, 624).

(11.) Neuroscience suggests that people process information along a “high road” and a “low road,” in which the “high road” controls much of people’s conscious behavior and the “low road” processes information quickly and automatically (LeDoux and Phelps, 2010; Stewart and Schubert, 2006, 105).

(13.) Ladd and Lenz change the dependent variable from Marcus et al.’s (2000) vote intention to a candidate-feeling thermometer (2008, 2011). The resultant effects of AIT are subsumed by affect transfer.

(14.) Additionally, by using pictures of actual politicians that have run against each other for office, Mattes and colleagues overcome the problem of external validity that often plagues laboratory experiments (201).

(15.) They argue that these effects are moderated by political sophistication. Similarly, Wendy Rahn (2000) argues that the influence of “public mood” on political reasoning is greater among less politically sophisticated individuals than the well informed.

(16.) For group formation and mobilization, see Tiedens and Leach (2004), Mackie et al. (2004), and Goodwin et al. (2001). For leaders’ policy actions, see Blight (1990), Greenstein (2000), and McDermott (2008).