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09-01-2019 | Original Paper | Issue 3/2020

Political Behavior 3/2020

“An Inherited Money Dude from Queens County”: How Unseen Candidate Characteristics Affect Voter Perceptions

Journal:
Political Behavior > Issue 3/2020
Authors:
Jared McDonald, David Karol, Lilliana Mason
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The online version of this article (https://​doi.​org/​10.​1007/​s11109-019-09527-y) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.

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Abstract

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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