We examine the effect of biographical knowledge on voters’ assessments of leaders. Prior research has shown that voters infer traits from candidate characteristics such as race, gender and incumbency, which are visible to even poorly-informed voters. Given voters’ limited knowledge, we argue that less-visible attributes may be easily misperceived, possibly affecting overall assessments of candidates. Focusing on President Trump, we find via a national survey that many Americans are unaware that he was born into great wealth. This misperception increases support for Trump, mediated through beliefs that he is both empathetic and good at business. We supplement our observational analysis with an experiment treating respondents with information regarding the role Trump’s father played in his career. This information leads respondents to rate the president more negatively on both empathy and business ability. These findings suggest that correcting information about candidate characteristics can change the minds of even loyal partisans.
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Special thanks to Shibley Telhami and Stella Rouse, the Directors of the University of Maryland Critical Issues Poll, for providing the survey resources necessary to execute this research. We would also like to extend thanks to Frances Lee for providing helpful feedback on previous versions of this article, as well as Michael Hanmer and Zachary Scott for their guidance.
All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.
It was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.
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McDonald, J., Karol, D. & Mason, L. “An Inherited Money Dude from Queens County”: How Unseen Candidate Characteristics Affect Voter Perceptions. Polit Behav 42, 915–938 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11109-019-09527-y
- Political knowledge
- Character traits
- Presidential approval