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Paul Ryan Must Be One Angry Guy

New research links anger with economic conservatism.

Even as the nation obsesses about President Donald Trump's self-inflicted wounds, Republicans in Congress are pressing ahead with their top priority: tax cuts heavily skewed toward the wealthy. Such legislation has a good chance of passing, in spite of the fact its benefits are limited to such a tiny slice of the population.

If that makes you angry, it's understandable, but also ironic. New research suggests that very emotion may be driving support for such inequality-widening policies.

"Anger shifts people towards economic conservatism," conclude Keri Kettle of the University of Manitoba and Anthony Salerno of the University of Cincinnati. "Anger leads people to support conservative economic ideals, which promote economic independence and discourage society resource sharing."

Polling consistently finds Republicans are more likely than Democrats to describe themselves as angry. And when it comes to economic policy, rage and resentment drive people to the right.

Writing in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, the researchers describe four studies that back up this thesis. One of them featured 203 adults recruited online who began with a writing exercise. Half wrote about "an experience that illustrates what it feels like to be angry," while the other half wrote about a typical day.

They then filled out a series of questionnaires designed to measure their level of competitiveness, sense of independence, and political ideology. Their level of social conservatism was measured by their responses to seven statements, while their support for economic conservatism was gauged by six others.

When it comes to economic policy, rage and resentment drive people to the right.

For example, using a scale of one (disagree strongly) to six (agree very strongly), they responded to the statement "Individuals with the ability and foresight to earn and accumulate wealth have the right to enjoy that wealth without government interference and regulations."

"We found that anger led people to express greater support for conservative economic ideals, but not conservative socio-cultural ideals," the researchers report. Other studies found fear did not have this effect, and that the effects of anger on political beliefs was stronger if people had been primed to think of resources as scarce.

Further analysis suggests this dynamic reflects the fact that anger heightens competitiveness.

Anger, the researchers note, generally arises when people are blocked from achieving some goal. This feeling of being stymied tends to focus the mind on one's personal desires, and how to obtain them. This promotes support for a system that puts as few obstacles as possible in one's way.

These findings are particularly important given the fact that anger is the traditional default emotion among American males. As psychologist Christopher Kilmartin wrote, "There is a tendency among some men to convert any and all emotional experiences into anger," since they are taught to avoid expressing "vulnerable emotions like sadness and grief."

The interpersonal consequences of this are obvious. These findings suggest there are political ones as well.

They also raise a media-related question: Did Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes intuitively understand this when they founded Fox News? After all, the network's goal often seems to be keeping its audience as agitated as possible.

If this research is correct, that anger spurs viewers to support candidates who espouse economic conservatism—policies that benefit the Murdochs of the world far more than their less-wealthy viewers.

Perhaps that's what's the matter with Kansas.