Political Embarrassment and Partisan Cooperation

Monday, Feb. 20, 2023 (3:30 PM – 5:00 PM)

Jennifer Wolak

Professor of Political Science
Michigan State University

In a time of affective polarization and partisan division, how can Americans be encouraged to cooperate with the opposing side? I consider how emotional reactions to politics motivate people to consider compromise. While negative emotions like anger can lead people to rally in support of their partisan side, I argue that another negative emotion – embarrassment – can instead encourage people to think about politics in more principled ways. In recent years, many Americans have said that politics makes them feel embarrassed. I show that these feelings of embarrassment can be a civic good, encouraging people to move past their partisan commitments. As a reaction to a sense of violated social norms, embarrassment affects how people think politics should be practiced. I draw on both experimental and survey evidence to demonstrate that when people feel embarrassed, they are more likely to defend the democratic norm of compromise.

Dr. Jennifer Wolak is a professor of political science at Michigan State University. She studies how Americans understand politics and what motivates their political behavior. Much of her work focuses on political psychology, including the effects of emotions on political decision-making and the effects of personality and socialization on the development of political attitudes. She is the author of Compromise in an Age of Party Polarization, published by Oxford University Press in 2020.

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