Community / News / November 3, 2010

Hope serves as catalyst for political behavior

Assistant Professor of Political Science Andrew Civettini and a group of students have been conducting exit polls in Galesburg as part of a research project sparked by Civettini’s interest in the relationship between politics and emotions.

Civettini and his student research assistants stationed themselves at seven polling locations for 13 hours on Electio n Day. According to Civettini, the research team must ask every fifth person to complete an exit poll.

This research has multiple purposes, the first being pedagogical—giving students firsthand experience in running actual campaign polls, and the process of conducting a poll.

According to junior Greg Noth, there are seven such Knox students involved in the exit poll data collection, as well as 10 students from Civettini’s voting and elections class. As an International Relations major, Noth’s interest area focuses on the Middle East, but he says the skills gained from participating in the research are more important to him than the content of the research itself.

The second purpose of the exit poll is to increase positive public relations between Knox and the city of Galesburg. Civettini has begun speaking with the board of election commissioners about the possibility of students working with election commissioners and learning about the process of running an election via hands-on experience.

“…Too often we don’t have structured teaching opportunities to learn about the process of doing politics versus learning about politics,” Civettini said.

The third purpose of the exit poll is to serve Civettini’s own research. He is interested primarily in the effect of hope on political participation, interest and attitudes.

A survey he conducted with Knox students in June 2010 showed a surprisingly strong correlation between the two: students who scored higher on the Adult Hope Scale developed by C.R. Snyder were also more likely to be much more politically active in terms of contemplating running for political office themselves someday, and being much more interested in political issues overall.

According to Civettini, the Adult Hope Scale measures two different aspects of hope: pathways and agency. Pathways are the extent to which people are able to envision multiple ways, or paths, to achieve their goals. Agency is the belief that one has the ability to undertake those paths in order to attain said goals.

In the exit poll handed out to voters as they left the voting place on Tuesday, the twelve Adult Hope Scale questions were presented, four of which were filler questions, four of which were related to pathways, and four of which were related to agency. For example: “I feel tired most of the time,” “I can think of many ways to get out of a jam,” and “I energetically pursue my goals,” respectively. Voters rated the truthfulness of twelve such statements on an 8-point scale from “Definitely False” to “Definitely True.”

Since the group of Knox students surveyed was not a representative sample, an exit poll will give Civettini a much better assessment of the validity of his study; if the positive correlation between high hopefulness and a strong political conscience is valid, the results should hold true for the Galesburg population as well.

Civettini, who calls himself a political psychologist, first became interested in the relationship between emotions and politics in graduate school, with an opportunity to work with his advisor, David Redlawsk, on his research examining emotions and voter decision-making. As Civettini’s knowledge on the topic developed, he discovered the concept that without emotion it is impossible to make rational decisions.

“I loved the paradox of it, and the juxtaposition of the philosophical which on its surface makes complete sense to me, and the scientific which was trying to look at it from a different angle. Thinking about how these things would work for understanding political decision-making just sent me around in circles, I was floored—I was fascinated with it. I never looked back,” he said.

Recently, Civettini was contacted by a book editor from Spain who was interested in conglomerating research by scholars in their early careers from different perspectives—sociological, political, neuroscience, etc. — to publish in a book about emotion and politics with an overarching theme of the Obama presidential campaign of 2008. Civettini’s research will appear in a chapter of this book, which is expected to be published next year.

Even though the study of emotion and politics is relatively new, Civettini is confident much more extensive research will be conducted in the future.

“Four years ago, when I presented the first piece of what became my dissertation, there were maybe two or three panels dealing with something to do with emotion at the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association…This last year there were 15,” Civettini said.

Civettini hopes that future research in the area of emotion and politics will lead to a heightened awareness of how people can become involved in their government, rather than be taught on a simply theoretical basis.

“If you can manipulate pathways thinking…then you could devise civic education programs that, rather than teach structure of government, teach people to think of that structure in terms of their paths to getting what they want from government…everybody should be able to see government as ‘these are the ways I could achieve my policy aims’,” Civettini said.

Allison Bader

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