Political Psychology Persuasion Political Ambivalence

Political psychology examines the cognitions, emotions, and behaviors involved in politics. While political science focuses on the political process, political psychology focuses on those involved in the political process such as politicians and voters. Political psychology considers a wide array of topics. A sample of three topics studied in political psychology includes the intelligence and personality dynamics of politicians, persuasion in politics, and causes of ambivalence in politics.   


For example, Simonton (2006) reviewed the personality dimensions of past presidents to determine if correlations existed between previous presidents and G.W. Bush on IQ and personality features such as openness to experience. 

Findings with previous presidents were compared with G.W. Bush’s IQ and personality scores. Bush was found to be above average in IQ with the public but below the sample of previous presidents. Bush scored below the general public and previous presidents on openness to experience. Simonton concludes that low openness to experience scores are typically with people who hold hard lines on ethical, philosophical, or moral issues often report low openness to scores. The one exception was Bush’s score on openness to feelings did track higher than the other dimensions of openness. 


Gross (2008) reviewed the efficacy of emotional appeals to persuade voters. Gross studied the power of emotional appeals to influence voters in episodic frames and thematic frames. Episodic frames are specific contexts or examples such as a case study. Thematic frames focus on specific themes such as unemployment.

Gross (2008) found that episodic framing elicited more affective response. Thematic framing tended to include a cognitive stream to a larger degree than the episodic type. Gross concluded that affective appeals in both types of frames can be effective. The task is to remember that thematic appeals require more effort than simply relying on images of one example related to a policy decision. The policy needs to be explained and the example should augment the rationale for the policy. 


Keele and Wolak (2008) explored the possible causes for ambivalence among voters and with politics in general. One possibility they offered was a lack of knowledge or interest in politics. A second possibility is that campaign management may lead to ambivalence. The researchers found that highly contested presidential elections result in candidate ambivalence. The contributing factor for ambivalence in House elections was linked to the amount of money spent by the candidate. High spending was found to reduce ambivalence about the candidate to increase ambivalence about the opponent. 


Gross, K. (2008). Framing persuasive appeals: Episodic and thematic framing, emotional response, and policy opinion. Political Psychology, 29(2), 169-192. 

Keele, L., & Wolak, J. (2008). Contextual Sources of Ambivalence. Political Psychology, 29: 653–673. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9221.2008.00659.x 

Simonton, D.K. (2006). Presidential IQ, Openness, Intellectual Brilliance, and Leadership: Estimates and Correlations for 42 U.S. Chief Executives. Political Psychology, 27(4), 511-526.