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Catastrophic Politics
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Book description

Shocking moments in society create an extraordinary political environment that permits political and opinion changes that are unlikely during times of normal politics. Strong emotions felt by the public during catastrophes - even if experienced only vicariously through media coverage - are a powerful motivator of public opinion and activism. This is particularly true when emotional reactions coincide with attributing blame to governmental agencies or officials. By examining public opinion during one extraordinary event, the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Lonna Rae Atkeson and Cherie D. Maestas show how media information interacts with emotion in shaping a wide range of political opinions about government and political leaders. Catastrophic events bring citizens together, provide common experiences and information, and create opinions that transcend traditional political boundaries. These moments encourage citizens to re-examine their understanding of government, its leaders and its role in a society from a less partisan perspective.


‘Hurricane Katrina shocked the world. Atkeson and Maestas study how Hurricane Katrina changed American politics, and develop a framework that scholars will use to understand the political consequences of future extraordinary events. This is a fantastic book!’

R. Michael Alvarez - California Institute of Technology

‘As politicians know, not all politics is routine, yet most studies of public opinion fail to recognize this simple fact. Atkeson and Maestas provide a compelling argument and persuasive evidence about how extraordinary events are unique in their consequences for individuals’ civic and partisan attitudes. At a time when laboratory and field experiments have gained such currency in the discipline, it is refreshing to see survey data used so creatively to advance our understanding of contemporary politics and public opinion.’

Jan E. Leighley - American University and editor of The Journal of Politics

‘Catastrophic Politics is simply groundbreaking. Inspired by Hurricane Katrina, Maestas and Atkeson have collaborated to deliver a highly accessible, methodologically sophisticated examination of the politics of disaster, with significant implications for policy makers. They are able to effectively weave together theories of causal attribution, media effects, and the psychology of emotion to tell a compelling story of how disasters can reshape citizens’ views of politics and their government.’

Don Haider-Markel - University of Kansas

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