The majority of Americans think that politics has an “incivility problem” and that this problem is only getting worse. Research demonstrates that negativity and rudeness in politics have been increasing for decades. But how does this tide of impolite-to-outrageous language affect our reactions to media coverage and our political behavior?
Disrespectful Democracy offers a new account of the relationship between incivility and political behavior based on a key individual predisposition—conflict orientation. Individuals experience conflict in different ways; some enjoy arguments while others are uncomfortable and avoid confrontation. Drawing on a range of original surveys and experiments, Emily Sydnor contends that the rise of incivility in political media has transformed political involvement. Citizens now need to be able to tolerate or even welcome incivility in the public sphere in order to participate in the democratic process. Yet individuals who are turned off by incivility are not brought back in by civil presentation of issues. Sydnor considers the challenges in evaluating incivility’s normative benefits and harms to the political system: despite some detrimental aspects, certain levels of incivility in certain venues can promote political engagement, and confrontational behavior can be a vital tool in the citizen’s democratic arsenal. A rigorous and empirically informed analysis of political rhetoric and behavior, Disrespectful Democracy also proposes strategies to engage citizens across the range of conflict orientations.
Disrespectful Democracy is the book our field has been waiting for. By integrating the concept of "conflict orientation" into the study of why different people respond in different ways to political media, Emily Sydnor has placed political psychology exactly where it belongs: at the heart of political communication research.
Dannagal G. Young, author of Irony and Outrage: The Polarized Landscape of Rage, Fear, and Laughter in the U.S.
Scholars, pundits, and citizens all worry about incivility in politics. Is it bad for democracy? How does it affect citizens? This book is a giant step forward in unraveling the impact of incivility. It explains how people react differently and the democratic implications of these reactions.
James N. Druckman, Northwestern University
There is much we can learn from this timely and thoughtful book. It provides a much needed deep dive into the psychological underpinnings of conflict orientation and responses to mediated incivility, revealing critical insights about their important—but previously overlooked—effects on political participation and engagement.
Johanna Dunaway, Texas A&M University
With this important contribution, Emily Sydnor untangles the complex ways that political incivility shapes political engagement, proffering important evidence that one-size-fits-all assumptions about how we react to political toxicity are misguided and misleading. A key read for anyone interested in promoting healthy democracy.
Sarah Sobieraj, coauthor of The Outrage Industry: Political Opinion Media and the New Incivility
Table of Contents:
1. Integrating the Political and the Psychological
2. The Political Psychology of Conflict Communication
3. To Laugh or Cry? Emotional Responses to Incivility
4. Choosing Outrage: Selective Exposure and Information Search
5. Mimicry and Temper Tantrums: Political Discussion and Engagement
6. A More Disrespectful Democracy?
Appendix A: Additional Study Information
Appendix B: Statistical Models and Results
About the Author:
Emily Sydnor is assistant professor of political science at Southwestern University.