The Anger Gap

With Election Day this week, we take a look at how race influences the way politicians appeal to voters' emotions—which in turn can impact political behavior and turnout

The Anger Gap: How Race Shapes Emotion in Politics

Phoenix, Davin L. Cambridge, 2019
282p bibl index, 9781108485906 $89.99, 9781108725330 $29.99, 9781108641906

The Anger Gap: How Race Shapes Emotion in Politics book cover

In his 1936 Democratic presidential nomination acceptance speech, Franklin Roosevelt stated that his opponents “are unanimous in their hate for me—and I welcome their hatred,” making it clear that appeals to the electorate’s emotions are not the exclusive province of demagogues. The 2016 presidential election prompted a renewed interest in mainstream politicians’ efforts to trigger voters’ emotions. In this textured study, Phoenix (Univ. of California, Irvine) explores how politicians’ appeals to emotions can change depending on the racial composition of the audience they are addressing. Phoenix identifies an unfortunate dynamic in American politics in which Democratic politicians, in particular, hesitate to appeal to African Americans’ justified anger at a political system that has ignored or acted contrary to their interests, while African Americans are reluctant to express their frustration because of the pernicious cultural caricatures of African American anger. This dynamic creates an “anger gap,” one that finds African Americans choosing resignation over mobilization, with unfortunate consequences for their voter turnout vis-à-vis that of whites. This is a rare readable, data-driven study, one that all students of American political behavior should consume.

Summing Up: Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty.
Reviewer: R. P. Seyb, Skidmore College
Interdisciplinary Subjects: African and African American Studies, Racial Justice
Subject: Social & Behavioral Sciences – Political Science – U.S. Politics
Choice Issue: May 2020

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