Simple models of political participation presume that increasing participation costs lead to decreasing levels of participation; however, a large body of anecdotal and scholarly evidence suggest that the relationship is more complicated. For some voters, costly, suppressive barriers to participation decrease turnout, for other voters, suppressive electoral institutions do little to change their behavior. For a third group, which is the focus of my research, suppression is a rallying point for increased participation. To explain the variance across these three groups of people, I develop a psychological theory of participation and show that emotions are key to explaining how a person responds to increasing costs of electoral suppression. Through survey and natural experiments, I find that voters who are disadvantaged by electoral suppression in the United States increased their participation in a response to learning about attempts to suppress their votes while others are emotionally unmoved and do not participate more when learning that suppression advantages them politically.
I argue that emotions are not epiphenomenal downstream effects of institutions. Rather, they play a significant mediating role and help us better understand why people choose to participate in the very institutions designed to suppress them; even when these voters exist on the lower portion of an uneven political playing field. Anger in particular explains why politically disadvantaged groups turn out en masse despite widespread electoral suppression.