Political Behavior

, Volume 29, Issue 2, pp 249–278 | Cite as

Retrospective and Prospective Performance Assessments during the 2004 Election Campaign: Tests of Mediation and News Media Priming

  • Neil Malhotra
  • Jon A. Krosnick
Original paper


According to many theoretical accounts of the vote choice, distal determinants (e.g., party identification) influence proximal determinants (e.g., perceptions of candidates), which in turn shape candidate preferences. Yet almost no research on voting has formally tested such mediational hypotheses. Using national survey data collected between February and September of 2004, this paper begins by illustrating how to conduct such investigations. We explored whether public approval of President Bush’s handling of a series of specific national problems (e.g., the Iraq war) influenced overall assessments of his job performance and evaluations of his likely future performance versus John Kerry’s, which in turn shaped vote choices. The results are consistent with the claim of mediation and shed additional light on the impact of various issues on the 2004 election outcome. We also tested what we term the “dosage hypothesis,” derived from news media priming theory, which posits that changes in the amount of media coverage of an issue during the course of a campaign should precipitate changes in the weight citizens place on that issue when evaluating the president’s overall job performance, particularly among citizens most exposed to the news. Surprisingly, this analysis did not yield consistent support for the venerable dosage hypothesis, suggesting that the conditions under which priming occurs should be specified much more precisely in future work.


Retrospective voting Presidential approval 2004 election News media priming Mediation 



We thank Gary Langer, Dan Merkle, and Jon Cohen of ABC News for sharing these data with us and for their helpful comments on the manuscript. Jon Krosnick is University Fellow at Resources for the Future.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Political ScienceStanford UniversityStanfordUSA
  2. 2.Departments of Communication, Political Science, and PsychologyStanford UniversityStanfordUSA

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