Implicit Cue-Taking in Elections
3 Pages Posted: 29 Sep 2014
Date Written: September 25, 2014
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
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