Fear or Loathing: Affect, Political Economy, and Prejudice

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Ethnonationalist politics have been on the rise in the United States since the 2008 financial crisis, culminating with the rise of Donald Trump. We examine why two seemingly unconnected things—economic crises and prejudice—so often arise simultaneously. Combining theories of economics and emotions, we connect economic crises and prejudice through the role of emotional response to crises, namely anger and anxiety. We use two survey experiments in the United States to test various theories of how emotions might connect economic threat to negative intergroup attitudes. We find that economic concerns increase both anger and anxiety among individuals, but that these emotions have distinct effects on prejudice. Angry individuals show increased prejudice, but only towards groups one is ideologically predisposed to be prejudiced towards. In contrast, anxiety exhibits few consistent effects on prejudice.