Guest Post by Cindy Kam and Liz Zechmeister

I asked Cindy Kam to write a brief post on her article with Elizabeth Zechmeister entitled “Name Recognition and Candidate Support” that appears in the October 2013 issue of AJPS.  She writes:

  • Does mere name recognition breed contempt or affection for a political candidate?  Politicians and campaign teams often devote significant efforts to increasing a candidate’s name recognition through buttons, bumper stickers, and yard signs.  Among campaign workers as well as political scientists, there is real debate over whether these strategies are effective. Our paper offers compelling evidence that, in low-information races – races in which people have very little to go on when casting their ballots – name recognition positively affects political support.  Moreover, it appears that a key mechanism behind this effect is inferences about candidate viability; that is, individuals perceive a more familiar candidate as more viable and, consequently, they bandwagon around that candidate.
  • We demonstrate both the effects and limits of name recognition in a series of novel laboratory experiments.  We exposed a treatment group of research subjects to a fictitious candidate’s name through subliminal priming. We found people who were exposed to a candidate’s name in the “blink of an eye” were more supportive of that candidate compared to people who were not exposed to the name. Thus, mere name recognition alone induces greater levels of candidate support. This effect holds only in low-information races, but these low-information races constitute the majority of decisions over which voters cast ballots.
  • In addition, we ventured out of the lab and carried out a field study, in which we placed yard signs in a neighborhood in the midst of a city council election. The yard signs contained only a fictitious name.  In a later survey of the community, we found that the yard signs increased support for the fictitious candidate among those who were exposed to the signs (compared to a group that was not exposed to the signs).  In short, our studies suggest that the name recognition effect works, in the lab and in the field, in low-information elections.

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The American Journal of Political Science (AJPS) is the flagship journal of the Midwest Political Science Association and is published by Wiley.