The Politics of Trauma: Mass Tragedies in Polarized America

Doctoral Dissertation


In recent years, a number of high profile tragedies, such as school shootings and natural disasters have both traumatized Americans and had profound political effects. Yet, the politics of trauma remains under-theorized and under-examined by scholars. In particular, mass exposure to traumatic events through expanded access to and supply of media in various mediums have made traumatic events more political in that Americans expect a governmental response. Further, in an era of partisan polarization, government responses to trauma have taken on increasingly partisan significance, the consequences of which we have yet to analyze.

My dissertation develops an original theory of individual and mass responses to different types of traumatic events (Black Church arson attacks, mass shootings, and natural disasters) by constructing a theory of traumatic politics. The project then examines the effect of these events on turnout and incumbency support as well as the role of trust in conditioning such effects. Then, the study examines public expectations of government in response to traumatic events and identities the effect party activist and executive framings of traumatic events have on the mass electorate and its implications for affective and ideological partisan polarization. Using original survey experimental data, aggregate disaster response data, local-level panel data, and time-series cross-sectional data, the dissertation measures three major aspects of the politics of trauma: the effects of individual traumatic experiences on political behavior, public opinion regarding party response, and the polarizing impact of party elite response.


Attribute NameValues
Author Wayde Z.C. Marsh
Contributor Geoffrey C. Layman, Research Director
Contributor Christina Wolbrecht, Committee Member
Contributor David E. Campbell, Committee Member
Contributor Jeffrey J. Harden, Committee Member
Degree Level Doctoral Dissertation
Degree Discipline Political Science
Degree Name Doctor of Philosophy
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Defense Date
  • 2022-03-29

Submission Date 2022-04-11
  • trauma, mass tragedies, political behavior, turnout, political psychology, public opinion, political parties

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