Book studies effects of terrorism, immigration, and other threats on public opinion

Shana Gadarian’s Anxious Politics explores how political anxiety shapes what Americans read, who they trust, and what policies they support.

Gadarian,-ShanaWith the presidential campaigns heating up, the recent book Anxious Politics: Democratic Citizenship in a Threatening World (Cambridge University Press) explores how the American public react to public threats, both real and perceived, and how that ultimately affects the larger national political arena. Maxwell political scientist Shana Gadarian and co-author Bethany Albertson of the University of Texas find that these threatening events increase political engagement, but not always in a constructive manner.

Focusing on four policy topics of our current era (immigration, public health, terrorism, and climate change), Gadarian and Albertson explore how anxiety over these issues affects how Americans express their opinions and relate to government. Emotions like anxiety can help people navigate a potentially dangerous world, but politics operates differently when the world is frightening.  Americans made anxious by events or political leaders want policies and leaders they believe will keep them safe. Based on seven experiments, the authors demonstrate that this anxiety changes the way that Americans learn about politics, the policies they support and the leaders they trust. (These findings were recently cited in a Washington Post article.)

Gadarian is an assistant professor of political science at the Maxwell School and a senior research associate at the Campbell Public Affairs Institute. Her work centers on political psychology, public opinion, and the tone and content of American politics. In a new project funded by the Norwegian Research Council, Gadarian will study the effects of terrorism on public opinion and social capital alongside an international team of scholars from Norway, Finland, and Spain. Gadarian received her PhD from Princeton University in 2008. 02/19/16