Is Protest Only Negative? Examining the Effect of Emotions and Affective Polarization on Protest Behaviour

Open Access Journal | ISSN: 2183-2463

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Is Protest Only Negative? Examining the Effect of Emotions and Affective Polarization on Protest Behaviour


  • Luca Bettarelli Centre d’Étude de la Vie Politique (CEVIPOL), Université Libre de Bruxelles, Belgium
  • Caroline Close Centre d’Étude de la Vie Politique (CEVIPOL), Université Libre de Bruxelles, Belgium
  • Emilie van Haute Centre d’Étude de la Vie Politique (CEVIPOL), Université Libre de Bruxelles, Belgium


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Abstract:  This contribution sheds light on the link between affect and protest behaviors. Using data from a voter survey conducted around the 2019 elections in Belgium, we examine two dimensions of affect: a vertical one, i.e., negative and positive emotions towards politics in general, and a horizontal one, i.e., affective polarization towards fellow citizens. Our findings make three important contributions. First, we identify five distinct classes of respondents depending on their emotions towards politics (apathetic, angry, hopeful, highly emotional, and average). Second, we demonstrate that the combination of both anger and hope is more strongly associated with protest action than anger alone. By contrast, apathy, characterized by an absence of emotions towards politics, is negatively related to protest behavior. Third, we show that affective polarization is a key driver of protest behavior per se. We also show that the two dimensions of affect have distinctive effects. Yet they interact: Affective polarization towards political opponents compensates for the absence of emotions towards politics in general.

Keywords:  affective polarization; Belgium; emotions; protest

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.17645/pag.v10i4.5665


© Luca Bettarelli, Caroline Close, Emilie van Haute. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0), which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction of the work without further permission provided the original author(s) and source are credited.