Document Type


Peer Reviewed


Publication Date


Journal/Book/Conference Title

American Political Science Review

DOI of Published Version


Start Page


End Page



This article applies theories of social cognition in an investigation of the dimensions of the assessments of candidates employed by voters in the United States. An empirical description of the public's cognitive representations of presidential candidates, derived from responses to open-ended questions in the American National Election Studies from 1952 to 1984, reveals that perceptions of candidates are generally focused on "personality" characteristics rather than on issue concerns or partisan group connections. Contrary to the implications of past research, higher education is found to be correlated with a greater likelihood of using personality categories rather than with making issue statements. While previous models have interpreted voting on the basis of candidate personality as indicative of superficial and idiosyncratic assessments, the data examined here indicate that they predominately reflect performance-relevant criteria such as competence, integrity, and reliability. In addition, both panel and aggregate time series data suggest that the categories that voters have used in the past influence how they will perceive future candidates, implying the application of schematic judgments. The reinterpretation presented here argues that these judgments reflect a rich cognitive representation of the candidates from which instrumental inferences are made.

Journal Article Version

Version of Record

Published Article/Book Citation

American Political Science Review, 80:2 (1986) pp. 521-540.


Copyright © 1986 American Political Science Association. Used by permission.