Academic journal article Political Research Quarterly

Who Evaluates a Presidential Candidate by Using Non-Policy Campaign Messages?

Academic journal article Political Research Quarterly

Who Evaluates a Presidential Candidate by Using Non-Policy Campaign Messages?

Article excerpt

This article tests the hypothesis that low-education voters are more likely to evaluate a candidate using personalistic or non-policy campaign messages than are more educated voters. The Latino electorate in the U.S. presents an ideal case study, given that both Presidential candidates in the 2000 election directed personalistic campaign messages toward them. Latinos with low-levels of education should be the most likely to evaluate a candidate using personalistic campaign cues since processing and understanding these messages require little in stored political information. Analysis of self-reported responses from the Latino Voter Survey of 2000 indicates that low-education Latinos are more likely than are high-education Latinos to use non-policy cues when evaluating a candidate. This finding implies that vote choice is structured differently for Latinos with varying levels of education. To test this implication and to confirm the finding from the self-reported responses, I estimate a model of Latino vote choice for the 2000 Presidential election. Probit analysis shows that high-education Latinos are indeed more likely to use factors that are informationally demanding, such as candidates' issue positions and ideology than are low-education Latinos.

The 2000 U.S. election saw both Presidential candidates, George W Bush and Al Gore, actively courting the Latino vote. Both campaigns invested heavily in Spanish-language media and made frequent appearances in Spanish neighborhoods (Segal 2002; West 2000). Anecdotal evidence further suggests that both Presidential candidates inundated Latinos with personalistic campaign messages and activity1 Examples of such efforts included George W Bush's touting of his half-Latino nephew, George P. Bush, and Gore proudly announcing that his grandson was born on Cinco de Mayo, which is the Mexican day of Independence. These campaign activities exemplify personalistic, or non-policy related, campaign efforts, since they do not reveal any information about the candidates' issue positions or policy stances. However, not all voters are equally affected by these campaign cues. As Zaller (1992: 123) notes, voters with low levels of political awareness have a higher probability of accepting a message, given that they receive the message, than do voters with greater levels of political awareness.2

Based on Zaller's research and candidates' campaign behavior toward Latinos in 2000, I pose the following question: Which Latinos are more likely to evaluate a Presidential candidate who uses these non-policy campaign cues? I contend that Latinos with lower levels of stored political knowledge are the ones who will evaluate a candidate from personalistic cues. To test this hypothesis, I use the Latino Voter Survey of 2000 and estimate a model that examines the determinants of using non-policy campaign cues in a respondents evaluation of a candidate. Education, which serves as a proxy for political information, is expected to be the primary explanatory variable. If it is indeed the case that non-policy campaign cues influence low-education Latinos to a greater extent than more educated Latinos, it would suggest that voters with low-education levels are more susceptible to certain types of campaign messages than are voters with higher levels of education.

If this finding proves true, it would also imply that vote choice is structured differently for voters with varying levels of education. Thus, a second hypothesis asserts that higheducation Latinos will be more likely to use issues and ideology in their vote choice than will low-education Latinos. High-education Latinos possess the necessary amounts of stored political information to vote according to the spatial model of voting (Downs 1957), whereas low-education Latinos may be less likely to vote in this way, given the high informational burden required from the spatial model (Campbell, et al. 1964).


The importance of political information in one's ability to make informed vote decisions has been an extensively researched topic, and it is widely acknowledged that much of the U. …

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