, Volume 15, Issue 3, pp 265-288

An examination of how voters form impressions of candidates' issue positions during the nomination campaign

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Abstract

There is increasing evidence that issues influence voter preferences during the nomination campaign (Bartels, 1985; Bartels, 1988); however, only Bartels (1988) and Conover and Feldman (1986, 1989) have examined how partisans forge perceptions of candidates' positions on issues prior to the general election campaign. The goal of this paper, then, is to examine how individuals develop perceptions of candidates' issue positions during the crucial months leading to the nominating conventions. Relying on theories developed in social-psychology, I tested five competing hypotheses known to influence individuals' perceptions of candidates' issue positions. An examination of the findings revealed that there is strong support for one of the hypotheses and modest support for three additional hypotheses. In summary, it appears that voters are quite ingenious in forming impressions of where candidates stand on the issues. They rely on stored information about politics, they actually adjust candidates' true positions to relieve cognitive inconsistencies, they evoke their own issue positions to assume candidates they like agree with them and candidates they dislike disagree with them, and finally they evoke their own issue positions to assume candidates agree with them even when they hold no sentiment toward the candidate.