Implicit Cue-Taking in Elections

3 Pages Posted: 29 Sep 2014

See all articles by Adam J. Berinsky

Adam J. Berinsky

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Department of Political Science

Justin de Benedictis-Kessner

Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS)

Megan Goldberg

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Department of Political Science

Michele Margolis

University of Pennsylvania - Department of Political Science

Date Written: September 25, 2014

Abstract

Can implicit racial cues change voters’ perceptions about a candidate’s race, and even change their support for a candidate? The results from a recent local election, in which a white conservative man defeated a well-established African American incumbent with Democratic endorsements in a predominantly non-white and Democratic district, suggest that is can be done. In this paper we run an experiment to test whether the anecdotal explanation for this outcome, that a white Dave Wilson implied that he was black by including photos of only African Americans in his campaign mailers, holds true. We not only find that the racial composition of campaign photos affects perceptions about a candidate’s race, it also translates into increased electoral support: Black respondents were more likely to vote for a candidate whose campaign flyer used black images relative to the same flyer that used photos of white people. We also explore whether this electoral boost comes from voters wanting an elected official who looks like them, or whether voters use the candidate’s race as a way to infer other politically-relevant information, like ideology and policy stances. While we find that black respondents who viewed campaign materials with black images perceived the candidate as more liberal and more Democratic, the effects do not persist at the level of individual policy positions or personal characteristics. Taken together, our results highlight how voters gather and use information in low-salience elections and demonstrate that a campaign strategy of implicit racial cuing seems to be an effective one.

Keywords: election, cue taking

Suggested Citation

Berinsky, Adam J. and de Benedictis-Kessner, Justin and Goldberg, Megan and Margolis, Michele, Implicit Cue-Taking in Elections (September 25, 2014). MIT Political Science Department Research Paper No. 2014-27, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2501452 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2501452

Adam J. Berinsky

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Department of Political Science ( email )

77 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02139
United States

Justin De Benedictis-Kessner (Contact Author)

Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) ( email )

79 John F. Kennedy Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Megan Goldberg

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Department of Political Science ( email )

77 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02139
United States

Michele Margolis

University of Pennsylvania - Department of Political Science

Stiteler Hall
Philadelphia, PA 19104
United States

HOME PAGE: michelemargolis.com

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