How do messages from political elites interact with individual traits of citizens to spur intergroup aggression? Building on research in social psychology, we expect that in places of protracted conflict, violent rhetoric from elites will be enough to mobilize antagonism toward an outgroup, especially among those who are generally less apt to be hostile toward the outgroup. We present results from two large survey experiments, the first conducted with young Jewish-Israeli adults across Israel and the second with a nationally diverse sample of adults in India. The results show that mild “fighting” words (e.g. “battle,” “fight”), combined with a reference to the outgroup, provoke significantly greater support for policies that harm the outgroup among some citizens. This effect is largest among individuals low in outgroup prejudice and low in aggressive personality traits, people who are usually less inclined to support policies that hurt the outgroup. Effects of violent rhetoric persist even with policies and rhetoric to help the outgroup. This work highlights the importance of considering both individual traits and contextual factors together to understand their full impact in the study of intergroup conflict.
Journal: Political Research Quarterly