The two major political events on the world stage in 2016 – Brexit and the election of Donald Trump – have ushered in a new phenomenon: intense voter hostility towards people with opposing views.
This is the finding of LSE academics Professor Michael Bruter and Dr Sarah Harrison, published in the launch issue of Nature Human Behaviour, a new online offshoot of the world-renowned scientific journal.
Both Brexit and Trump’s shock election win defied the overwhelming majority of opinion polls, media predictions and stock markets, calling into question the validity and reliability of long-held barometers of political behaviour.
The LSE authors conducted a large study of voters in the aftermath of the EU referendum, revealing that 51 per cent of voters surveyed said they felt anger towards people who voted differently from them and 46 per cent even experienced “some level of disgust”.
“Emotional dislike towards another electoral camp – while seemingly rare in the past – seems to have become the name of the game in 2016,” the authors say in their paper Understanding the emotional act of voting.
Their findings suggest that many people have extended their long-standing resentment towards politicians and the political system to now target their anger at fellow voters.
“This has been expressed with mass demonstrations across British and US cities, alongside demands for the electoral results to be dismissed and overturned, or new elections sought.”
Thirty-two per cent of those surveyed said they “felt like crying” after the Brexit vote, a figure that was even higher (46 per cent) among voters aged 18-24 years.
“We need to better understand how and why voters are so emotional,” says Professor Bruter.
“The mass media often suggests that people do not care about elections and many abstain from voting because they are not interested, but our findings contradict that. Elections are actually a time of heightened emotion for many people.”
An overwhelming number of young people surveyed said they were “proud and excited” to vote, that it made them feel part of their community and gave them a “heightened sense of responsibility”.
However, the emotional fallout for voters on the ‘losing side’ was huge, the authors found, with voters taking it personally and feeling aggression and anger towards those who voted differently.
“Understanding the emotional context of voting is crucial because it has serious consequences for democracy,” Dr Harrison says. “If people experience such powerful negative reactions to the result, there is a risk they will feel alienated by their political system.”
Source: LSE, London School of Economics and Political Science