Lecture at Drury Focuses on the Angry Electorate

Nov 16, 2016

Dr. Lilly Goren Speaks at Drury University
Credit Han Zhao

“The Angry Electorate” was the topic of a lecture at Drury Tuesday by a political science professor at Carroll University.

Dr. Lilly Goren said one outcome of negative campaigning is an angry electorate.  Another is the more or less permanent nature of campaigning in the U.S., helped by the 24-hour news cycle and social media.

She talked about wedge strategies, which she said tap into fear and revulsion.  According to Goren, politicians and parties have used wedges to propel themselves into office by campaigning on a kind of anger within the electorate.  And it’s an anger they may be responsible for igniting by using divisive issues to get elected.

"Wedge issues can range from attacking an opponent's character or integrity to promoting a particular policy agenda or initiative that will antagonize some voters while rallying others while often stirring up anger, fear and hatred among the electorate," said Goren.

She said Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton both used wedge issues as tactics.

According to Goren, attempts to use wedge issues have led to potentially “something troubling for our democracy”:  the alienation of citizens from their government.  That disconnection, she said, could be leading to significant declines in voting.

Goren talked about the general alienation that pervaded the presidential election.  It was based, she said, on the stirring up of anger, rage and resentment toward the federal government, in particular.

According to Goren, research shows that had more of an effect on people more likely to be Republican voters or independents.

The experiments, she said, demonstrated how an individual reacts to campaign ads.

"Democratic viewers usually prefer positive messages about candidates to negative ones.  Republicans and Independents, on the other hand, possess negative views of government," she said, "and the negative advertising speaks directly to those beliefs.  Independent voters are almost more alienated than anybody else, and mostly they're voting to throw the bums out."

She said that’s where advertising may or may not be effective.

And she talked about what happens when celebrities run for office.  She says research shows voters hold celebrities to a different kind of standard than they do normal politicians, and as a result they often give them a pass on policy and issues.

"And, to some degree, project onto that individual emotional connections and attachments, sort of like the Bloody Shirt in lots of ways, but also they project onto that politician, because they're not--they're celebrities, whatever they want," said Goren.

She said when celebrities become politicians, they don’t have to introduce themselves—they’re already known.  So they can, to some degree, negotiate politics in a way most politicians can’t.