Passionate Politics

Course content

This course discusses political mobilisation as well as political attitudes formation: the factors that motivate political involvement and the consequences that high levels of public engagement have on elections and the development of public policy. Traditional explanations of political engagement emphasise the role of socialization, economic background, or rationality in mobilising voters. In recent years, however, the role of passion and emotions, such as fear, anger, or anxiety, entered the field. 


Emotions are now accepted to be cognitive, particular modes of thought in themselves, rather than contrary to rationality. Nevertheless, if our desires and predilections influence the choices we make, they are necessarily caught up in political judgements, too. The passions are also crucial for providing the emotional basis of individual and social identities, and thus for the collective political communities in which we are situated. Similarly, no movement or ideology could do without the passionate conviction of its members to drive political action or change. Our understanding of key moments of social change thus remains impoverished if we fail to take into account the importance of grief as a response to social upheaval, the role of love and empathy in the creation of political and social solidarities, or the roots of political dissent in anger.


The course aims at uncovering the emotional routes to political and social engagement as well as political attitudes’ formation. It begins with information on current levels of citizen engagement in the European context and elsewhere. This first section of the course covers the various ways in which individuals can be mobilised from involvement in election campaigns to the distribution of political information via social networks. The course then shifts focus to cover the psychology of political mobilization in detail, including the importance of group memberships and identities, emotions, and values. Finally, the last section of the course deals more specifically with the psychology of persuasion and electoral mobilization, including current partisan and issue polarization. Overall, the course is designed to illuminate the psychology of political mobilization and apply these principles to contemporary politics in European countries and beyond.


The course tries to integrate current political debates and the question how politicians as well as policymakers can influence these emotions.


Issues that will be covered by the course:

  1. Levels of political engagement in Europe
  2. Collective action and social movements
  3. The politics of fear
  4. Personality and politics
  5. Political Psychology theories and collective action: major theories and approaches
  6. Social and Political Identity
  7. Nationalism and Patriotism
  8. Grievances and collective action
  9. Political tolerance
  10. Emotions and politics
  11. Polarized politics
  12. The role of persuasion
  13. Framing of citizens



Bachelor student: 10 ECTS

Master student: 7.5 ECTS


Notice: It is only possible to enroll for one course having a 3-day compulsory written take-home assignment exam due to coincident exam periods.

Learning outcome


Students who complete this course will be able to define the role of emotions in mobilising voters and identify how these can be channelled and used by political actors. They will also be able to critically evaluate scientific articles exploring the nexus between individual psychological attributes and social and political involvement.  

Moreover, at the end of the course, they should understand and critically reflect empirical studies, in order to assess their strengths and weaknesses. 



Students will be able to analyse specific cases and evaluate the empirical, concrete and complex challenges within the field of political psychology.



Students will be able to address the general problem and opportunities of emotions and passion in the political arena. The will be able to develop a research question and a research disposition using the prevalent concepts, theories and literature in the discipline.


The course uses a mixture of classroom teaching, small-group problem-solving, short student presentations on specific case studies.

An extensive week-by-week reading list, featuring core reading for each topic will be made available in advance of the seminar. The following list offers an illustration of some of the texts that will be used on the course:


Exemplary literature

Albertson, Bethany, and Shana Kushner Gadarian. 2015. Anxious politics: Democratic citizenship in a threatening world. New York NY: Cambridge Univ. Press.


Brader, Ted, Nicholas A. Valentino, and Elizabeth Suhay. 2008. “What Triggers Public Opposition to Immigration? Anxiety, Group Cues, and Immigration Threat.” American Journal of Political Science 52 (4): 959–78.


Castells, Manuel. 2012. Networks of outrage and hope: Social movements in the internet age /  Manuel Castells. Cambridge: Polity.


Dalton, Russell J. 2016. The good citizen: How a younger generation is reshaping American politics. Second edition. Thousand Oaks, California: CQ Press, an Imprint of SAGE Publications, Inc.


Freitag, Markus, and Carolin Rapp. 2014. “The Personal Foundations of Political Tolerance towards Immigrants.” Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies 41 (3): 351–73.


Gerber, Alan S., Donald P. Green, and Christopher W. Larimer. 2010. “An Experiment Testing the Relative Effectiveness of Encouraging Voter Participation by Inducing Feelings of Pride or Shame.” Polit Behav 32 (3): 409–22.


Huddy, Leonie. 2001. “From Social to Political Identity: A Critical Examination of Social Identity Theory.” Political Psychology 22 (1): 127–56.


Huddy, Leonie, and Nadia Khatib. 2007. “American Patriotism, National Identity, and Political Involvement.” American Journal of Political Science 51 (1): 63–77.


Jones, Jennifer. 2015. “The Rationalizing Voter by MiltonLodge and Charles S.Taber. Cambridge University Press, 2013, 281 pp.” Political Psychology 36 (1): 137–40.


Kuklinski, James H., Ellen Riggle, Victor Ottati, Norbert Schwarz, and Robert S. Wyer. 1991. “The Cognitive and Affective Bases of Political Tolerance Judgments.” American Journal of Political Science 35 (1): 1.


Marcus, George E., and Michael B. MacKuen. 1993. “Anxiety, Enthusiasm, and the Vote: The Emotional Underpinnings of Learning and Involvement During Presidential Campaigns.” Am Polit Sci Rev 87 (03): 672–85.


Marcus, George E., John L. Sullivan, Elizabeth Theiss-Morse, and Daniel Stevens. 2005. “The Emotional Foundation of Political Cognition: The Impact of Extrinsic Anxiety on the Formation of Political Tolerance Judgments.” Political Psychology 26 (6): 949–63.


Mondak, Jeffery J. 2010. Personality and the foundations of political behavior. Cambridge studies in public opinion and political psychology. New York: Cambridge University Press.


Nelson, Thomas E., Zoe M. Oxley, and Rosalee A. Clawson. 1997. “Toward a Psychology of Framing Effects.” Political Behavior 19 (3): 221–46.


Osborne, Danny, and Chris G. Sibley. 2013. “Through Rose-Colored Glasses: System-Justifying Beliefs Dampen the Effects of Relative Deprivation on Well-Being and Political Mobilization.” Personality & social psychology bulletin 39 (8): 991–1004.


Valentino, Nicholas A., Vincent L. Hutchings, Antoine J. Banks, and Anne K. Davis. 2008. “Is a Worried Citizen a Good Citizen? Emotions, Political Information Seeking, and Learning via the Internet.” Political Psychology 29 (2): 247–73.


Wodak, Ruth. 2015. The Politics of Fear: What Right-Wing Populist Discourses Mean /  Ruth Wodak. London: SAGE Publications Ltd.

Basic knowledge of quantitative methods, i.e. understanding of empirical texts, is of advantage as the course literature is mainly quantitative.

Continuous feedback during the course of the semester
Feedback by final exam (In addition to the grade)
7,5 ECTS
Type of assessment
Written assignment
3-day compulsory written take-home assignment
Marking scale
7-point grading scale
Censorship form
No external censorship
Criteria for exam assessment
  • Grade 12 is given for an outstanding performance: the student lives up to the course's goal description in an independent and convincing manner with no or few and minor shortcomings
  • Grade 7 is given for a good performance: the student is confidently able to live up to the goal description, albeit with several shortcomings
  • Grade 02 is given for an adequate performance: the minimum acceptable performance in which the student is only able to live up to the goal description in an insecure and incomplete manner

Single subject courses (day)

  • Category
  • Hours
  • Class Instruction
  • 28
  • English
  • 28