Close elections push voters to extremes

Source: Mark Burd, Futurity, October 30, 2014

When political races are competitive, both Democrat and Republican voters favor candidates who are more strongly conservative or liberal, new research shows. The findings contradict conventional thinking that holds close elections swing appeal to the center toward candidates with a moderate or centrist ideology and may explain why voters in the United States have elected so many polarizing candidates in recent elections.

For a study published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, researchers conducted a series of three experiments.

The first presented subjects with a hypothetical primary election in the United States and observed whether the participant’s preference for an extreme leader was altered by their perception of how competitive the election would be.

When an electoral district was described as “hotly contested” between Republicans and Democrats, Democrat participants were more likely to choose an extreme liberal from a lineup of primary candidates than when the district was described as being “safe.”

A second study, which was conducted shortly before the 2012 Presidential election, found that both Democrat and Republican participants were more supportive of a more ideologically extreme version of Barack Obama or Mitt Romney, respectively, when they were told that the presidential election was likely to be competitive than when they thought the election was not close.

The final experiment tested the reasoning behind people’s choice of extreme candidates in competitive elections….

Related:
A desire for deviance: The influence of leader normativeness and inter-group competition on group member support
Source: Jin Wook Changa, Nazlı Turanb, Rosalind M. Chowa, Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, Volume 56, January 2015
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Highlights
• We examine when and why extreme leaders are preferred to normative leaders.
• Groups preferred extreme leaders in highly competitive inter-group contexts.
• Preference for extreme leaders is driven by need for inter-group differentiation.
• We show that pro-normative deviance is sometimes more appealing than normativeness.

Abstract
Group members typically prefer leaders who have characteristics or attitudes that are in line with group norms (i.e., are normative). In this paper, we explore the possibility that in highly competitive inter-group contexts, group members prefer leaders who can more effectively differentiate the in-group from out-groups, leading to a preference for leaders with more extreme attitudes that are in line with group norms (i.e., pro-normative). In three experiments conducted in an election context in the United States, we find that both Democrats’ and Republicans’ preference for an extreme leader increases under conditions of high inter-group competition. Results indicate that participants’ heightened need to differentiate their political party from the competing party drives this effect, and that this effect is stronger for those who identify strongly with their political party. Implications for group members’ responses to in-group deviance and leadership support are discussed.