This Doctoral Dissertation Research Support project examines how voters learn about the candidates and issues in presidential nomination campaigns. Presidential nomination campaigns are difficult environments for voters, except for the in party when a sitting president is seeking reelection. This is true because it nearly always begins as a low information race and the contextual environment that faces citizens is a difficult one because of the intraparty nature of the contest and the multiple numbers of candidates competing. However, because the race is sequential and lasts over a period of months, voters have a tremendous opportunity to learn about the candidates through the events and activities of candidates, reports by the media, and the decisions of primary voters and caucus goers. While technically each state campaign is a state contest for the sole purpose of delegate selection, the state campaigns have been nationalized making state events opportunities for candidates to earn national and local media coverage, create a voter support base across states and raise needed campaign funds. As candidates become more known through their activities, media reports and election outcomes individual level attitudes and preferences change. While information may vary across states, based upon the level of campaign action in the state, and between interested and uninterested individuals, information does accrue and does impact both preferences and attitudes about the candidates. Information, therefore, about winners and losers and more substantive information about candidates' traits and policies, helps future voters determine the viability and electability of candidates, weeding out candidates who are the weakest alternatives. In this research the Ph. D. student focuses on how potential nomination voters respond to the campaign as it unfolds, considering the contextual environment that voters find themselves in (hard fought or low key sate contests) and the attributes of individuals, especially their level of political sophistication, that makes potential voters more or less likely to receive and accept new political information. The key questions center around how information matters to voters and when and which voters acquire and react to information. Information comes from the intensity of the campaign at the state and national level. For this dissertation the student focuses on three key dependent variables: knowledge about the candidates, candidate choice or candidate preference and political engagement. To address questions related to voter learning the research design consists of a rolling panel and cross-sectional survey design that captures attitude development as it changes in response to the context of the campaign. In addition, the research program collects a vast amount of contextual data on candidate behavior, media coverage and macro campaign conditions. The design and data collection allows the student to connect the activities of candidates, the media and macro campaign conditions with individuals and interact that information with individual level measures of political sophistication. By examining the contextual environment she will be able to assess what, when and which voters learn about the candidates and how that knowledge assists them in making more informed decisions. The project has the potential for broader impact because it will assist in graduate and undergraduate training and provide a resource for future studies of presidential nomination campaigns, the importance of voter context and the value of contextual data in understanding individual level attitudes and behavior.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Social and Economic Sciences (SES)
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Frank P. Scioli Jr.
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University of New Mexico
United States
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