The Role of Emotions in Politics

Politics has become a field where emotions play a fundamental role. Although power has always aroused great passions, today, its leading role has been reinforced by our exhibitionist society.
The Role of Emotions in Politics

Last update: 28 July, 2022

According to classical Greek theory, politics has two phases: the agonistic and the architectural. During the agonistic phase, struggles for power take place to achieve a certain control or social conduct. The architectural phase is when projects and constructions appear once power has been achieved.

Politics, as a privileged terrain for emotions, is deeply anchored in the agonistic phase. The ideas that are put forward in the world of power are linked with reason, but they have deep emotional roots. It’s in the struggle to achieve power that emotions circulate the most at a political level.

Currently, many politicians base their speeches on emotions. Indeed, they’re more convincing with messages of fear or promises of security than with reasonable programs or projects for solving specific problems. Furthermore, voters want proposals that give solutions to their difficulties, but they also want suggestions that transmit passion and enthusiasm.

“The truly skilful politician is one who, when he comes to a fork in the road, goes both ways.” 

-Marco Aurelio Almazán-

Politician giving a speech on political psychology
Many political speeches have deep emotional roots.

Communication

About 75 percent of interpersonal communication is non-verbal. Hence, the importance that’s given in politics to gestures, body postures, the management of space, and everything that accompanies the spoken word. This mimicry reinforces the emotional content and generates a connection with the candidate.

Currently, politicians’ communication consultants focus on transmitting an image of their candidates sustained by the sensory. It involves the use of sensory stimuli to generate moods in the public.

This concept, which comes from the world of advertising, is called brand sense. It’s used to amplify the values of a specific candidate or political party. The potential offered by sound, taste, sight, smell, or touch greatly influences perception. It involves integrating the five senses to create sensory and emotional bridges between the candidate and their electorate.

The role of emotions in politics

In many places today, politics has become an act of wishful thinking. There’s a significant incidence of propaganda, to the detriment of ideological debate. In fact, politics and entertainment are getting increasingly closer.

Indeed, it’s not uncommon for many of today’s politicians to behave more like pop stars than statesmen. They often seek, not to convey an ideological project, but to build an image tailored to what their audience wants to see and hear. In many cases, it’s more about marketing than real ideas or proposals.

Fear has always had enormous persuasive power. Fear is inoculated into voters subtly and continuously. Politicians choose an enemy and launch all their artillery against them. Such an enemy might be the unemployed or the immigrant, the left or the right, etc. The point is to build a discourse around the purpose of containing a threat. It’s been demonstrated that this often works.

Parliamentarian delivers a political speech
Emotionally based speeches have great persuasive power.

New contributions

The success of emotional political discourse is due, in part, to the contribution made by some human and social sciences. For example, psychology has made contributions to the relationship between behavioral economics and the economic decisions made by the leaders of different governments.

Communication studies, especially those focused on advertising, have emphasized the concept of persuasion. Advertising persuasion is based on emotional rather than rational choices. This has been applied to politics, paying close attention to the emotions that each candidate can arouse.

However, this isn’t all new. In fact, Aristotle, in the fourth century BC, spoke in his book, Rhetoric, about how emotions played a central role in political debate. He said that the objective of the debate was to persuade through emotions, rather than to reach reasoned decision-making. According to him, persuading and winning were more important than arguing.

Almost 25 centuries later, politics is now taking the terrain of the emotional for itself. It combines non-verbal communication with feelings in order to achieve a connection with citizens, a process that transcends the rational. Indeed, those who attend political speeches expect their hearts to be touched, and the candidates are fully aware of this fact.

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