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CANDIDATE ASSESSMENT. How do Voters Judge Candidates?. Voter Held Images of Candidates. Voters appear to share consensual perceptions of the qualities candidates and office holders ought to possess. These preconceptions are important because:

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how do voters judge candidates


How do Voters Judge Candidates?

voter held images of candidates
Voter Held Images of Candidates
  • Voters appear to share consensual perceptions of the qualities candidates and office holders ought to possess.
  • These preconceptions are important because:
    • (1) many voters may unwittingly compare an office-seeker with their ideal
    • (2) candidates may try to frame their image in ways consistent with this abstract ideal.
  • are highly consistentacross voter dimensions
  • Among the traits people desire in their ideal candidate, not surprisingly, are strength, honesty, intelligence, independence and benevolence.”
  • Ideal presidents were thought to be: "calm in deliberation; possessed with honesty, integrity, and intelligence; calm, analytical, and cautious yet firm on pertinent issues, bold and decisive in carrying through plans; and devoid of the cosmetics of the TV performer" (Nimmo & Mansfield, 1986).
social cognition research
  • similar prototypes."Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives, young and old, men and women, . . . Southerners and Northerners, and the well-educated and the less well-educated all partake of a common conception of Presidential character and performance"(Kinder, Peters, Abelson, and Fiske, 1980).
  • Standards of assessment involve domains of personality (e.g., honest, knowledgeable, open-minded) and performance (e.g., provide strong leadership, solve our economic problems, appoint good advisors).
some character attributes are more influential
Some Character attributes aremore influential
  • Integrity and competence, seem most important
  • Graber (1984) "While honesty is no assurance of other good qualities, lack of honesty presumably depreciates sharply the value of other good qualities"
  • Trustworthiness, as assessed by consistency of behavior, is especially important in the evaluation of image.
actual candidates
Actual Candidates
  • Standards voters' hold for "ideal" candidates are modified in order to accommodate "real" candidates
  • Variations among candidates appear to be primarily performance based evaluations (e.g., effectiveness in a specific performance domain), while fundamental character judgment criteria remain candidate invariant
positivity bias
  • Images held by voters tend to be favorable for known public figures
  • This tendency, however, is dramatically reversed when the target of evaluation is the more abstract category politician "
  • An important assumption of the suspect category--politician--was the expectation that such people put getting elected ahead of moral behavior.
character is elemental in voters assessment of candidates
Character Is Elemental in Voters' Assessment of Candidates
  • 1. Certainly factors other than direct knowledge of the candidate's character (i.e., party or group affiliations, salient issues, or a weak opponent) can account for voters decisions
  • 2. However, even traditional voting models supports the position that issues, group affiliations, and party identification have declined in importance in voting decisions (with notable exceptions)
  • 3. Voters are progressively more independent, less subject to group and partisan decisional criteria, and therefore more dependent on their own evaluative resources. (was the pre-Rove?)
  • 4. Also, character is more salient in high profile races with well known candidates
  • 5. Importantly, even when voters rely on "politically relevant" beliefs about a candidate (e.g., issue stands, party identification), this data is often translated by voters into perceptions of character.
  • 6. Indeed, if elections and spots could be transformed into perfect replicas of issue based information, the change would not eliminate evaluations of character. Johnston (1986) speculates that even if advertising were void of candidate image content "voters would continue to create images of candidates in their minds"
why character matters
  • People apply their own experience, much of which is gained interpersonally, to political candidates.
  • That is, votersutilize those standards having fidelity in their own lives when they evaluate candidates.
  • Kinder (1986) believes that individuals look at a candidate and wonder what sort of person he or she is. Voters answer this question "in a way analogous to the way in which they answer similar questions about their friends and neighbors, that is, partly by consulting their implicit theories regarding the organization and antecedents of character itself".
  • As in daily life, where individuals regularly assign attributions based on the consistency of actions and character, voters note the behavior of candidates, apply appropriate personal standards, and derive an evaluation of a candidate's character
  • In addition, when assessing traits for observed political candidates, people seem influenced by consistency pressures in their character judgments, such that individuals are reluctant to rate a candidate as both open-minded and selfish or both knowledgeable and prejudiced.
  • It appears that with candidates, as with our friends, we demand a certain level of consistency between what people say and what they do, as well as a fit between what people do and our assumptions about "character" consistency.
voter perceptions of campaign messages
Voter Perceptions of Campaign Messages
  • 1. When confronted with a message, voter’s perceptions are far from passive they make inferences, engage in "gap-filling"
  • 2. Sometimes the smallest cue can trigger a full range of evaluations, even to the extent of influencing an individual's voting intention.
  • 3. By simply manipulating the picture quality of a hypothetical candidate, one group of researchers demonstrated reliable and differentiated judgments about character and fitness for office, (Rosenberg, Bohan, McCafferty, Harris, 1986; Rosenberg & McCafferty, 1987).
  • 4. It is unlikely that voters separate, in a categorical sense, judgments of image and issue.
  • 5. "exposure to issue commercials result[ed] in a more positive candidate image than [did] exposure to image commercials" (Garramone, 1986, p.247).
johnson s study of issue ads
Johnson’s Study of Issue Ads

It appears that auditors easily and automatically make character assessments even when these attributes were overtly absent in the spots.

why issue solicits character judgments
Why Issue Solicits Character Judgments
  • Candidates usually frame issues by either doing or not doing something, or proclaiming they will do or not do something.
  • Candidates' "behavior-in-situation" is easily observed by voters and directly contributes to trait assessment
  • Character evaluation, when contextualized in action, allows individuals to make character judgments with a greater degree of certainty.
  • Those who argue that "issue spots" are preferred in that they avoid the problem of "style becoming substance" should be advised that in fact "issue spots" effectively work such that "substance becoming style."