Political Behavior

, Volume 15, Issue 2, pp 193-223

First online:

Judging presidential character: The demise of Gary Hart

  • Laura StokerAffiliated withDepartment of Political Science, Survey Research Center, University of California

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This article investigates the public reaction to the scandal which effectively ended Gary Hart's quest for the 1988 Democratic presidential nomination. Employing NES panel data covering the period in which the scandal surfaced, and integrating arguments drawn from research on attitude change, media priming, and candidate evaluation, this analysis of the Hart case illuminates more general questions about how citizens respond to media communications during the course of an election campaign and of the factors that facilitate or inhibit attitude change. The investigation lends support to contemporary theories of attitude change that emphasize citizens' levels of political involvement and prior predispositions; uncovers evidence of media priming as views about controversial standards of morality were newly engaged in defining citizens' post-scandal evaluations of Hart; and yields evidence that negative responses to Hart in the wake of the scandal were tempered among citizens who typically weigh policy criteria alongisde candidate characteristics when formulating their overall candidate evaluations.