It’s nearly a week after America’s presidential election and much of the country is still abuzz with post-election analysis and political commentary. While many of us have experienced political overload, avoidance is not as easy as turning off the television or changing the radio station. Election aftermath continues to infiltrate social circles and take over conversations with family and friends.
Social networking interactions are far from the exception.
Whether your candidate won or lost, the close call of this race indicates at least some of your friends and family don’t share your reaction. This difference in opinion has spurred hateful Facebook memes, negative comments to loved ones, and outright social disputes.
Why are people still so angry about the election and what can you do to move forward?
The Psychology of Post-Election Frustration
As pointed out by Michele Zip of The Stir, it’s easy to be downright surprised by the hateful and angry responses of some people following the election. While Mitt Romney supporters are obviously frustrated with their candidate’s loss, others have also grown weary of the bickering and negativity. Social psychology offers several explanations for why typically calm and friendly people have lost their cool during the course of this election.
Effort justification, a phenomenon described by social psychologist Aaron Aronson (2002), is one explanation for both parties’ bad behavior following the election. When individuals invest a significant amount of energy into a cause, they often feel compelled to justify their choice. Energy can come in many forms, ranging from actual campaign participation to paying close attention during the final weeks of the campaign.
Those who supported Romney likely subscribed to his platform’s political values and beliefs. When he lost, Romney supporters experienced a dissonance as their goals seemed lost and their efforts to no avail. In justifying their efforts, Romney supporters might post angry status updates or grumble to friends and family members.
Effort justification also explains the behavior of some Obama supporters, who also feel compelled to justify their effort in this campaign. Mocking posts and negative behavior have been far from reserved for losers in this election. Individuals on both sides have fueled ongoing hostility.
The fact that so many people continue to engage in angry political discourse suggests another social psychology explanation at play, conformity. Online communication indicates a growing trend in loud and frequent announcements of politically driven thoughts. Twitter handled 31 million tweets on election night alone. Many of those were far from friendly or even tactful. Some messages, whether written or spoken, are even aggressive.
A long-standing theory, the frustration-aggression hypothesis, suggests that people react aggressively in response to frustration for what they believe to be an unfair outcome (Dollard et al., 1939). The aggression is intended to equalize that unfairness. After several days of tolerating backlash, Obama supporters share the burden of feeling unfairly scrutinized and a need to get even.
5 Ways to Bust Post-election Blues
Post-election negativity can have significant consequences for one’s mood. It’s also proven detrimental to many relationships. Whether you’ve wiped a few contacts from your Friends list or you aren’t speaking to a coworker, here are 5 ways to calm the dialogue and bust the post-election blues.
- Deflect and redirect. Most of us have had plenty of recent opportunities to chat about the election. The fires of negativity can be dampened by taking a break from the hostility. If you hear the topic come up, offer a neutral deflection and change the subject. Try something like, “This campaign has definitely been a busy one and now the holidays are upon us! What are your plans for this weekend?”
- Distance yourself from negativity. If you’re burned out on campaign talk, feel free to step out of the breakroom, unsubscribe from updates, and turn off the TV. Put some space between yourself and the hostility.
- Ignore, ignore, ignore. This basic but essential suggestion remains important in busting the negativity blues. When someone makes a comment that increases your frustration, verbally or online, ignore it. The origin of the comment, of course, can make this troublesome. It’s one thing if it comes from an acquaintance. If it comes from your spouse, your options to ignore might be limited.
- Encourage responsibility. While it’s best to ignore most rants, sometimes it feels impossible. Counter a person’s complaints about injustices with an honest inquiry about how they personally plan to address the problem. If delivered with tact, you’ll be surprised how it stops most in their complaining tracks.
- Self-awareness. Be aware of your own forays into the stream of political negativity. Giving and getting hostile interactions often go hand in hand. Recognize your tendency to respond impulsively or post and say hateful things. Increasing your own positive energy is the most direct step to busting the post-election blues.
Aronson, E. (2000). Nobody left to hate. New York: Freeman.
Dollard, Miller et al. (1939). The hypothesis suggests that the failure to obtain a desired or expected goal leads to aggressive behavior. Frustration and aggression. Yale University Press: New Haven, CT.
Image credit: Fotolia5 Ways to Bust the Post-Election Blues