Do Anxious Voters Lean Conservative?

It is often claimed that people who feel anxious will tend to vote for politicians or parties on the extremes of the political spectrum. But Mannheim researchers have now found that this is not true for all kinds of anxiety. Rather, the political context of the anxiety appears to matter.

Discussions in the media suggest that anxiety sways voters to adopt conservative attitudes. Some right-wing politicians appear to deliberately stoke anxieties in their campaigns. That’s something former US President Donald Trump has often been accused of, for instance. Previous research has also found that topics such as rising immigration, alienating globalization, and the threat of terrorism can trigger anxiety and influence political views. 

In a new laboratory-based study, psychologists Ulrich Müller and Prof. Georg W. Alpers and political scientist Oke Bahnsen tested whether anxieties unrelated to political topics can also affect political attitudes. They induced states of anxiety in test subjects that were completely unconnected to politics and looked at whether these states affected the subjects’ political attitudes. “Our results clearly show that anxiety by itself doesn’t sway political attitudes. So the tendency for anxious individuals to vote for far-right or far-left parties may be conditional on a political context of threat,” explained Müller. 

The paper was published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology.

Text: Katja Bauer/May 2023