, Volume 18, Issue 1, pp 1-24

The impact of scandal on candidate evaluations: An experimental test of the role of candidate traits

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Abstract

Correlational studies have found candidate traits to be an important determinant of vote preferences but cannot rule out reverse causality processes in explaining these findings. The present study demonstrates the independent impact of trait inferences on candidate evaluations using experimentally controlled candidate profiles of hypothetical U.S. congressmen. Using the scandal situation as a testing ground, this experiment examines whether task-relevant, competence traits actually have greater impact on political judgments than the more general, warmth-related trait qualities. Two types of scandals are considered (marital infidelity and tax evasion), both implying negative trustworthiness characteristics of the officeholder. Results demonstrate that trait inferences do have a causal impact on global evaluations. Consistent with past survey studies, competence qualities appear to be more important than warmth qualities but only for those with greater political information levels.