Importance and determinants of trait use in evaluations of candidates in the 1996 United States presidential election
AuthorAylor, Brooks, 1970-
AdvisorKenski, Henry C.
MetadataShow full item record
PublisherThe University of Arizona.
RightsCopyright © is held by the author. Digital access to this material is made possible by the University Libraries, University of Arizona. Further transmission, reproduction or presentation (such as public display or performance) of protected items is prohibited except with permission of the author.
AbstractFor more than forty years, communication and political science researchers have examined how receivers evaluate sources. Valuable attention to source credibility in the communication literature has yielded numerous categorizations of the dimensions receivers use to evaluate sources. Little recent work in communication, however, has focused on source evaluations, and much of the previous work has been criticized for not recognizing the context-specific nature of source credibility. Important work in political science has focused on receiver evaluations of political officials. This literature, however, has not produced consistent results as to the importance of individual trait types in the evaluation of presidential candidates. Most of this work did not examine determinants of trait use in the evaluation of presidential candidates, including receiver demographics, media use, and political disaffection. Neither communication nor political science researchers have adequately recognized the commonalities which exist in their separate examinations of source evaluations. The current study draws upon communication and political science research to examine respondents' use of candidate traits in a specific and important context, the evaluation of presidential candidates. The study explores the importance of competence, character, empathy, and leadership traits in evaluations of presidential candidates during a time of increasingly negative media coverage of presidential candidates and high levels of political disaffection among citizens. Another important contribution of the study to the literature on trait evaluations is its examination of determinants of trait use in evaluations of presidential candidates. The 1996 American National Election Studies pre- and post-election interviews were used to answer the questions posed in the study. Results suggest that empathy and leadership were more important than character or competence in respondents' evaluations of Bill Clinton, Bob Dole, and Ross Perot in 1996. Economic conditions and party identification were also strong predictors of the vote in 1996. The results provide strong evidence that empathy and leadership were more important in 1996 than in presidential elections of the last three decades. The study suggests important sex differences in trait use, as well as significant relationships between media use, political knowledge, and political disaffection and use of traits to evaluate candidates.
Degree ProgramGraduate College