The Emotional Citizen: Emotion as a Function of Political Sophistication



Scholars and popular commentators have often stereotyped emotion as a tool that citizens use to reason about politics in place of hard fact and critical thought. Indeed, critics have often seen emotion as a potentially dangerous force that can sway the unsophisticated masses to undesirable ends. This article challenges the view that emotion is an outgrowth of low sophistication, arguing that high sophisticates are more likely to experience emotion in reaction to politics and that emotions are more influential on the political behavior of high sophisticates. Drawing upon appraisal theory, this article develops a theory of how political engagement elicits emotionality about politics, and how emotion interacts with understanding and motivation to produce its greatest impact on the behavior of those citizens who are the most politically sophisticated. Behavioral effects are examined in the contexts of presidential voting behavior and Iraq War policy attitudes. Hypotheses are tested on pooled American National Election Studies (ANES) data and an original web-based survey of undergraduates.