Is This Election Driven By Fear?


Over at Vox, Ezra Klein talks to Molly Ball about what’s driving the weirdness of this election. Here’s Ball:

You have a world that feels like it’s on fire with terrorism and conflict abroad. You still have a very high number of Americans saying the country is on the wrong track. And people are still really fearful. The level of fear in the electorate — fear of terrorism, fear of crime — is at a 15-year high. People have not been this afraid since just after 9/11. And it’s gone up 20 points in the last year and a half.

Here’s a chart from the Chicago Council on Global Affairs that backs this up:

On the other hand, if we go back to Vox, we also get this:

Fear of terrorism is a poor third to corrupt government, and can’t even beat out fear of clowns. I cut off the chart at the top seven, but even if you look at the whole thing, crime doesn’t make the list at all.

So…I’m not sure that fear really explains a lot about this election. There’s always something out there that makes us afraid, and God knows, Donald Trump has done his best to gin up mountains of fear this year—why else would lots of people be afraid of corrupt government, economic collapse, and gun rights infringement? But is fear in general a lot higher than in previous elections? I’m doubtful. It’s sort of like the “anger” we hear about so often, but which doesn’t actually seem to be any different than previous election cycles.

Maybe some political science boffin can take a deep look at the evidence and let us know. Is fear really higher this year than in previous presidential elections?