Emotional appeals have always been an important instrument in the mobilization of political support in modern societies. As found in several experimental studies from the United States, the emotions displayed by leading politicians in their televised public appearances have an impact on the political attitudes and behaviors of the public. Positive emotions such as joy or happiness, pride, and amusement elicit a more positive assessment of politicians, whereas showing negative emotions such as anger or outrage often diminishes the public's support. This transfer of emotions from sender to recipient has been described as “emotional contagion.” However, under specific circumstances, emotions expressed by politicians can result in counter-empathic reactions among recipients. To examine the role of emotions between political leaders and the public in an institutional and cultural setting outside the United States, this article presents experimental findings on the impact of emotions expressed by two leading German politicians on the German public. The study used emotional displays by Chancellor Angela Merkel and former parliamentary leader of the Left Party, Gregor Gysi, observing how their assessments by the German public changed in response to these displays. Consistent with existing research, we discovered positive effects on the evaluation of both politicians when they displayed positive emotions. However, the impact of negative emotions is different for Merkel and Gysi and can be described as contagion in the former and counter-contagion in the latter case. Furthermore, we found that individual recognition of the expressed emotions modified the effect they had on the evaluation of some leadership characteristics.
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Vol. 36 • No. 2