Angry Americans: How political rage helps campaigns but hurts democracy
Steven Webster, Indiana University
As the 2020 presidential election draws near, one thing is clear: America is an angry nation. From protests over persistent racial injustice to white nationalist-linked counterprotests, anger is on display across the country.
The national ire relates to inequality, the government’s coronavirus response, economic concerns, race and policing. It’s also due, in large part, to deliberate and strategic choices made by American politicians to stoke voter anger for their own electoral advantage.
Donald Trump’s attempts to enrage his base are so plentiful that progressive magazine The Nation called him a “merchant of anger.” Meanwhile, his opponent, Joe Biden, elicits anger toward the president, calling Trump a “toxic presence” who has “cloaked America in darkness.”
Anger-filled political rhetoric is nothing new. From Andrew Johnson and Richard Nixon to Newt Gingrich, politicians have long known that angry voters are loyal voters. People will support their party’s candidates locally and nationally so long as they remain sufficiently outraged at the opposing party.
While inciting voter anger helps candidates win elections, research from my book, “American Rage: How Anger Shapes Our Politics,” shows that the effects of anger outlast elections. And that can have serious consequences for American democracy’s long-term health.