The Political Relevance of Emotions: “Reassessing” Revisited



Ladd and Lenz (2008) question a central claim of affective intelligence theory (AIT), namely that anxiety affects political judgments indirectly by reducing the role of predispositions and increasing the role of contemporary information. They claim that alternative hypotheses, especially the notion that emotions are simply rationalizations of political preferences, better explain the role of emotion in politics. Their ultimate conclusions, however, rest on an overly narrow view of both theory and evidence. Even if one accepts Ladd and Lenz's reanalysis of survey data, there is insufficient evidence to cast aside either AIT or the hypothesis that anxiety affects the mode of political judgment. AIT explains a broad range of political relationships that are unchallenged by the reassessment and which cannot be explained by the offered alternatives. Moreover, numerous experimental studies reject the alternative explanations in favor of an exogenous, often interactive role for anxiety. AIT will surely require amendment, if not abandonment, someday. Competing theories of emotion already exist and, unlike the alternative championed by Ladd and Lenz, these theories too suggest a meaningful role for emotion in political judgment and behavior. For now, given all of the research to date, AIT is a robust competitor, scarcely in need of being “salvaged.” Burgeoning research on the political relevance of emotions will benefit from further debates, replications, and extensions, as long as new claims and evidence are put in proper perspective.