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Title:Mind the gap: Issue positions, candidate preferences, and motivated reasoning in U.S. presidential elections
Author(s):Kantack, Benjamin R
Director of Research:Rudolph, Thomas J.
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Rudolph, Thomas J.
Doctoral Committee Member(s):Gaines, Brian J.; Kuklinski, James H.; Mondak, Jeffery J.
Department / Program:Political Science
Discipline:Political Science
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Subject(s):Political psychology
voter decision-making
motivated reasoning
Abstract:Democratic norms suggest that voters should support candidates with whom they agree on the important issues of the day. When voters perceive disagreement between themselves and their preferred candidates, they often experience cognitive dissonance and react by engaging in motivated reasoning, changing their issue positions (via persuasion) and candidate perceptions (via projection) to rationalize their candidate preferences. Although motivated reasoning has been studied extensively in political psychology, most of these studies have been limited to single issues and single motivated reasoning processes, making it impossible to generalize about how individual voters approach cognitive dissonance in complex campaign environments when multiple issues and processes are in play. I develop a multi-issue, multi-process theory of motivated reasoning that accounts for the full range of tools voters have for justifying their discordant candidate preferences with respect to issue proximity. Using panel surveys from three U.S. presidential elections, I demonstrate that voters tend to spread their motivated reasoning efforts across issues and across processes. These motivated reasoning strategies are both more effective at reducing cognitive dissonance and more cognitively efficient, combining many small adjustments to voters' issue positions and candidate perceptions that add up to a substantial reduction in perceived voter-candidate disagreement. These findings have mixed implications for citizen competence and democratic accountability: multi-issue, multi-process motivated reasoning is less distortive of voters' political cognition than its single-issue or single-process counterparts, but it is also more intractable due to its lack of reliance on any one issue or process to rationalize candidate preferences.
Issue Date:2017-08-01
Rights Information:Copyright 2017 Benjamin R. Kantack.
Date Available in IDEALS:2018-03-13
Date Deposited:2017-12

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