Considering the candidates: Political sophistication in presidential elections, 1984–2000
This dissertation explores the interrelationship between political information and presidential candidate evaluations. In doing so, I bridge related theories and fill empirical gaps in the public opinion and electoral research literature. Using National Election Study cross-sectional and panel data from the past five presidential elections, I assess how a voter's level of political sophistication influences candidate images, as reflected in the nature, number, and breadth of considerations offered in volunteered responses to open-ended survey questions. Findings indicate that elections are indeed unique. On the one side, the political players, relevant issues, and media coverage vary from year to year. On the other, voters bring with them certain priorities, expectations and judgmental propensities. The implications of political information are best understood when sophistication is examined alongside theories of individual decision-making and a consideration of the specific political environment in which electoral decisions are made.
0708: Mass media
0633: Cognitive therapy