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J Pers Soc Psychol. 1988 Aug;55(2):196-210.

The role of attitude importance in social evaluation: a study of policy preferences, presidential candidate evaluations, and voting behavior.

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Department of Psychology, Ohio State University, Columbus 43210.


According to a number of social psychological theories, attitudes toward government policies that people consider important should have substantial impact on presidential candidate preferences, and unimportant attitudes should have relatively little impact. Surprisingly, the accumulated evidence evaluating this hypothesis offers little support for it. This article reexamines the hypothesis, applying more appropriate analysis methods to data collected during the 1968, 1980, and 1984 American presidential election campaigns. The impact of policy attitudes on candidate preferences was indeed found to depend on the importance of those attitudes, just as theory suggests. The analysis also documented two mechanisms of this increased impact: People for whom a policy attitude is important perceive larger differences between competing candidates' attitudes, and important attitudes appear to be more accessible in memory than unimportant ones.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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