Skip to main content

The Influence of President Obama’s, Middle Name on Middle Eastern and U.S. Perceptions

Abstract

In a series of cross-cultural experiments, we explore whether mentioning President Obama’s middle name facilitates or impedes his delicate position as a peace broker. Our results show that including Obama’s middle name affects perceptions of Obama and his proposals for the Middle East among Israeli Jews and Israeli Arabs. We examine whether the use of Obama’s middle name inspires the same reactions in the United States by replicating the study among those who sympathize with Israelis and those who sympathize with Palestinians. Results show that the effect of Obama’s middle name differs in the United States. This study has important implications, not only for the President Obama’s standing in the Arab world and for the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, but also for our understanding of subtle ethnic cues and biases across cultural contexts.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2

Notes

  1. Few students indicated an awareness of the study manipulation.

  2. We also evaluated whether political knowledge moderates the effect of Obama’s middle name on the dependent variables considered here. Items asking respondents basic political facts, tailored to their cultural context, were incorporated on each survey (Israel: M = 2.45, SD = 1.81, Cronbach’s α = .82, Range = 0–5, U.S.: M = 6.94, SD = 2.17, Range = 0–10, Cronbach’s α = .71). For the Israeli data, there were significant three-way interactions between political knowledge, Israeli Jew/Arab, and whether the president’s middle name was used when predicting beliefs that Obama is pro-Israeli [F(1,374) = 3.97, p < .05] and beliefs that Obama is pro-Palestinian [F(1,374) = 7.82, p < .01]. The same interactions did not appear in the U.S. data. Using a median split on the political knowledge variable and post hoc comparisons with a Sidak adjustment for multiple comparisons, several differences appear in the Israeli data. Politically knowledgeable Israeli Jews rate Obama as less pro-Israel when his middle name was used compared to when it is not used and compared to Israeli Jews with lower levels of political knowledge. Politically knowledgeable Israeli Arabs rate Obama as more pro-Israeli and less pro-Palestinian when his middle name is used compared to Israeli Arabs with lower levels of political knowledge. Among Israeli Arabs who did not see the president’s middle name, those with lower levels of political knowledge rated the president as less pro-Palestinian compared to Israeli Arabs with higher levels of political knowledge. Put in another way, Hussein led politically knowledgeable Israeli Jews to evaluate the president as less pro-Israel and politically knowledgeable Israeli Arabs to evaluate the president as less pro-Palestinian.

References

  • Baumeister, R. F., Bratslavsky, E., Finkenauer, C., & Vohs, K. D. (2001). Bad is stronger than good. Review of General Psychology, 5(4), 323–370.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Bertrand, M., & Mullainathan, S. (2004). Are Emily and Greg more employable than Lakisha and Jamal? A field experiment on labor market discrimination. The American Economic Review, 94(4), 991–1013.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Block, R., Jr, & Onwunli, C. (2010). Managing monikers: The role of name presentation in the 2008 presidential election. Presidential Studies Quarterly, 40, 464–481.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Brader, T., Valentino, N. A., & Suhay, E. (2008). What triggers public opposition to immigration? Anxiety, group cues, and immigration threat. American Journal of Political Science, 52(4), 959–978.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Byrne, G. C., & Pueschel, J. K. (1974). But who should I vote for county coroner? The Journal of Politics, 36(3), 778–784.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Cavari, A. (2012). Religious beliefs, elite polarization, and public opinion on foreign policy: The partisan gap in American public opinion toward Israel. International Journal of Public Opinion Research. doi:10.1093/ijpor/edr053.

  • Chong, D., & Druckman, J. (2007). Framing public opinion in competitive democracies. American Political Science Review, 101(4), 637–655.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Cobb, M. D., & Kuklinski, J. H. (1997). Changing minds: Political arguments and political persuasion. American Journal of Political Science, 41(1), 88–121.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Druckman, J. N. (2004). Political preference formation. American Political Science Review, 98, 671–686.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Druckman, J. N., & Lupia, A. (2000). Preference formation. Annual Review of Political Science, 3, 1–24.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Druckman, J. N., & Nelson, K. R. (2003). Framing and deliberation: How citizens’ conversations limit elite influence. American Journal of Political Science, 47(4), 729–745.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Ehrlinger, J., Plant, E. A., Eibach, R. P., Goplen, J., Columb, C., Kunstman, J., et al. (2011). How exposure to the confederate flag affects willingness to vote for Barack Obama. Political Psychology, 32(1), 131–146.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Gardner, W. L., Gabriel, S., & Lee, A. Y. (1999). “I” value freedom but “we” value relationships: Self-construal priming mirrors cultural differences in judgment. Psychological Science, 10, 321–326.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Goren, P., Federico, C. M., & Kittilson, M. C. (2009). Source cues, partisan identities, and political value expression. American Journal of Political Science, 53(4), 805–820.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Green, D. P., Palmquist, B., & Schickler, E. (2002). Partisan hearts and minds: Political parties and the social identities of voters. New Haven: Yale University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Haaretz Service (2010, July 8). Obama: Israelis suspicious of me because my middle name. Haaretz.com.

  • Hamilton, D. L., & Zanna, M. P. (1972). Differential weighting of favorable and unfavorable attributes in impressions of personality. Journal of Experimental Research in Personality, 6, 204–212.

    Google Scholar 

  • Hensley, W. E., & Spencer, B. A. (1985). The effect of first names on perceptions of female attractiveness. Sex Roles, 12(7/8), 723–729.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Ho, A. K., Sidanius, J., Pratto, F., Levin, S., Thomsen, L., Kteily, N., et al. (2012). Social dominance orientation: Revisiting the structure and function of a variable predicting social and political attitudes. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin., 38(5), 583–606.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Hovland C. I. & Weiss, W. (1951/52). The influence of source credibility on communication effectiveness. Public Opinion Quarterly, 15(4), 635–650.

    Google Scholar 

  • Hurwitz, J., & Peffley, M. (2005). Playing the race card in the post-Willie Horton era: The impact of racialized code words on support for punitive crime policy. Public Opinion Quarterly, 69(1), 99–112.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Iyengar, S., & Kinder, D. R. (1987). News that matters: Television and American opinion. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Johnson, R. A., & Wichern, D. W. (2007). Applied multivariate statistical analysis (6th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

    Google Scholar 

  • Kam, C. D. (2007). Implicit attitudes, explicit choices: When subliminal priming predicts candidate preference. Political Behavior, 29, 343–367.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Kernell, S. (1977). Presidential popularity and negative voting: An alternative explanation of the midterm congressional decline of the President’s party. American Political Science Review, 71(1), 44–66.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Krosnick, J. A., & Kinder, D. R. (1990). Altering the foundation of support for the president through priming. American Political Science Review, 84, 497–512.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Kühberger, A. (1998). The influence of framing on risky decisions: A meta-analysis. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 75, 23–55.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Kuklinski, J. H., & Hurley, N. L. (1994). On hearing and interpreting political messages: A cautionary tale of citizen cue-taking. Journal of Politics, 56, 729–751.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Ladd, J. M. (2010). The neglected power of elite opinion leadership to produce antipathy toward the news media: Evidence from a survey experiment. Political Behavior, 32(1), 29–50.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Lau, R. R. (1982). Negativity in political perception. Political Behavior, 4(4), 353–377.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Lau, R. R. (1985). Two explanations for negativity effects in political behavior. American Journal of Political Science, 29(1), 119–138.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Lee, A. Y., Aaker, J. L., & Gardner, W. L. (2000). The pleasures and pains of distinct self-construals: The role of interdependence in regulatory focus. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 78, 1122–1134.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Maoz, I. (1999). The impact of third-party communications on the Israeli–Palestinian negotiations. International Journal of Press/Politics, 4(3), 11–25.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Maoz, I. (2006). The effect of news coverage concerning the opponents’ reaction to a concession on its evaluation in the Israeli–Palestinian conflict. International Journal of Press/Politics, 11(4), 70–88.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Maoz, I., Ward, A., Katz, M., & Ross, L. (2002). Reactive devaluation of an “Israeli” vs. “Palestinian” peace proposal. Journal of Conflict Resolution, 46(4), 515–546.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Matsumoto, D., & Yoo, S. H. (2006). Toward a new generation of cross-cultural research. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 1, 234–250.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • McClain, D. P., Johnson Carew, J. D., Walton, E., & Watts, C. S. (2009). Group membership, group identity, and group consciousness: Measures of racial identity in American politics? Annual Review of Political Science, 12, 471–485.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • McGraw, K. M., & Ling, C. (2003). Media priming and presidential and group evaluations. Political Communication, 20, 23–40.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Mendelberg, Tali. (2001). The race card: Campaign strategy, implicit messages, and the norm of equality. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Miller, J. M., & Krosnick, J. A. (2000). News media impact on the ingredients of presidential evaluations: Politically knowledgeable citizens are guided by a trusted source. American Journal of Political Science, 44(2), 301–315.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Nyhan, B., Reifler, J., Edelman, C., Passo, W., et al. (2009). The effects of semantics and social desirability in correcting the Obama myth. Working Paper.

  • Page, B. I., & Shapiro, R. Y. (1983). Effects of public opinion on policy. American Political Science Review, 77, 175–190.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Preacher, K. J., Rucker, D. D., & Hayes, A. F. (2007). Addressing moderated mediation hypotheses: Theory, methods, and prescriptions. Multivariate Behavioral Research, 42, 185–227.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Price, V., & Tewksbury, D. (1997). News values and public opinion: A theoretical account of media priming and framing. In G. A. Barnett & F. J. Boster (Eds.), Progress in the communication sciences (Vol. 13, pp. 173–212). New York: Ablex.

  • Roskos-Ewoldsen, D. R., Roskos-Ewoldsen, B., & Dillman Carpentier, F. (2009). Media priming: An updated synthesis. In J. Bryant & M. B. Oliver (Eds.), Media effects: Advances in theory and research (3rd ed., pp. 74–93). New York: Routledge Taylor & Francis.

    Google Scholar 

  • Ross, L., & Ward, A. (1995). Psychological barriers to dispute resolution. Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, 27, 255–304.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Scheufele, D. A., & Tewksbury, D. (2007). Framing, agenda setting, and priming: The evolution of three media effects models. Journal of Communication, 57(1), 9–20.

    Google Scholar 

  • Sela, A. (2007). Civil society, the military, and national security: The case of Israel’s security zone in south Lebanon. Israel Studies, 12(1), 53–78.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Sheafer, T., & Weimann, G. (2005). Agenda building, agenda setting, priming, individual voting intentions, and the aggregate results: An analysis of four Israeli elections. Journal of Communication, 55, 347–365.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Soroka, S. N. (2006). Good news and bad news: Asymmetric responses to economic information. Journal of Politics, 68(2), 372–385.

    Google Scholar 

  • Taylor, S. E., & Fiske, S. T. (1978). Salience, attention, and attribution: Top of the head pherlomena. In L. Berkowitz (Ed.), Advances in experimental social psychology (Vol. 11). New York: Academic Press.

  • Tsfati, Y. (2007). Hostile media perceptions, presumed media influence, and minority alienation: The case of Arabs in Israel. Journal of Communication, 57, 632–651.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Valentino, N. A., Hutchings, V. L., & White, I. K. (2002). Cues that matter: How political ads prime racial attitudes during campaigns. American Political Science Review, 96(1), 75–90.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • White, I. K. (2007). When race matters and when it doesn’t: Racial group differences in response to racial cues. American Political Science Review, 101(2), 339–354.

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgments

The authors would like to thank Bathen Fisher, Einav Jerochim, and Steven Seybold for their much appreciated assistance.

Funding

This research received no specific grant from any funding agency in the public, commercial, or not-for-profit sectors.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Israel Waismel-Manor.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Waismel-Manor, I., Stroud, N.J. The Influence of President Obama’s, Middle Name on Middle Eastern and U.S. Perceptions. Polit Behav 35, 621–641 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11109-012-9210-4

Download citation

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s11109-012-9210-4

Keywords

  • News
  • Priming
  • Israeli–Palestinian conflict
  • Ethnic cues
  • Reactive devaluation
  • Obama