Compassion in Red and Blue: The Politics of Who Cares about Whom
Long, Meridith Taylor
My dissertation uses several different methods to examine the role of compassion in politics, both at the citizen and elite level. I explore elite appeals to compassion through a content analysis of a selection of congressional and presidential speeches, finding that politicians often appeal to concern for others in need but that the parties differ widely in their use of these appeals. I combine this with an analysis of several waves of the General Social Survey to understand how individuals connect compassion to their political preferences. I find that proclivities toward compassion do not differ between partisans in the public but that partisan differences emerge in the effects of compassion. I find that highly compassionate Democrats have more liberal views on issues for which Democratic elites have made compassion more relevant, as outlined in my content work, such as capital punishment and help for the poor. Likewise, highly compassionate Republicans have more pro-life views, in accordance with the messages of compassion for unborn children by Republican elites. Highly compassionate individuals of both parties are more charitable in the private sector, indicating that compassion has similar effects on partisans when it is not tied to politics. I link these approaches with a sequence of experiments that reveal that compassionate rhetoric by elites activates individuals’ compassion. Perceptions of controllability might also influence whether or not people connect compassion to their preferences. I begin to test this hypothesis in my second experiment, and I find some evidence suggesting that perceptions of controllability are also influential in explaining political divisions.