Contempt of Congress: Do Liberals and Conservatives Harbor Equivalent Negative Emotional Biases Towards Ideologically Congruent vs. Incongruent Politicians at the Level of Individual Emotions?


  • Russell L. Steiger
  • Christine Reyna
  • Geoffrey Wetherell
  • Gabrielle Iverson


Prior research suggests that conservatives are more fear-motivated, disgust-sensitive, and happy than liberals. Yet when it comes to political targets (e.g., politicians), both liberals and conservatives can get very emotional. We examined whether the ideological differences in emotion seen in past research apply to emotions towards specific ideologically similar vs. dissimilar targets, or whether these emotions are instead equivalent between liberals and conservatives. Across two studies, liberals and conservatives rated their anger, contempt, disgust, fear, and happiness towards Democratic and Republican congresspersons. We compared participants’ levels of each emotion towards their respective ideologically dissimilar and ideologically similar congresspersons. Liberals and conservatives both experienced stronger negative emotions towards ideologically dissimilar congresspersons than they did towards ideologically similar ones. Neither liberals nor conservatives differed in negative emotions towards politicians overall (i.e., on average). However, there were ideological differences in emotional bias. In Study 1, liberals exhibited a greater contempt bias (i.e., a larger gap in contempt ratings between ideologically similar and ideologically dissimilar politicians) than conservatives did. In Study 2, liberals exhibited greater contempt, anger, disgust, and happiness biases than conservatives did. The need to consider context in the study of ideological differences in emotion is discussed.