It’s also possible that an outright fear
of the opposing candidate will cause
more people to turn out. My work with
Allyson Holbrook and John Cacioppo
shows that turnout is enhanced when
you hate a candidate (American Journal of
Political Science, 2001).
What might explain today’s support of
more anti-establishment candidates?
Given the profound disappointment
Americans feel about the state of our
federal government, it’s understandable
that they would say, “Wait a minute,
Donald Trump just said what I think!
He said that the country’s government is
broken in language that captures what is
in my heart!” As anyone who has
studied psychology knows, when a
citizen feels aggrieved and a leader
says, “I understand why you are
angry,” that citizen feels validated,
and there are tremendous positive
consequences for their self-esteem
and sense of mastery.
You’ve also studied how polls can
influence voter behaviors. What
have you found?
One reason that polls influence
people is because when data show
that most other people believe
something, there is good reason
to believe that something is true.
Polls also let us know when we
are out of step with others. For
example, if a person supports a
certain candidate, and that support
is unusual, he or she will be less
inclined to continue to support
his is a very striking, even
shocking campaign that
has set political psychol-
ogists back on their heels,
simply because we haven’t
seen a phenomenon
like this,” says Jon Krosnick, PhD. “This
year, we can’t rely on our long-standing
assumptions about the way Americans
will make their decisions.”
Teasing apart how people form polit-
ical attitudes is Krosnick’s forte. As a
professor of psychology, communication
and political science at Stanford Univer-
sity, Krosnick has explored many of the
factors that influence voter behaviors.
The Monitor asked him to share his
insights on this year’s wild ride.
What is particularly striking to you
about this election?
What’s really amazing is that these
two candidates were selected as a
result of the normal nominating
process, yet somehow both parties
have ended up with candidates
with higher negative ratings than
any other major party nominee in
the history of polling. This is like
walking into a restaurant and seeing nothing on the menu that you
want to eat, but you’ve just finished
a 15-mile hike and there’s no other
restaurant for 20 miles, so you’ve
got to eat something.
As a result, it’s going to be
really interesting moving forward,
particularly because the approval
of Congress is at an all-time low.
Americans’ faith in the federal
government has plummeted. Add to that
the fact that we have two presidential
candidates who most people don’t want,
and we’re set up for lack of confidence
in government and in our future as a
What does that mean for voter turnout?
One possibility is that there will be
unusually low turnout because people
feel so disappointed. But there could be
high turnout, because it feels like people
are talking about politics more than they
normally have, which of course from a
political psychology point of view—and
the health of democracy point of view—
is a really good thing.
5 QUESTIONS FOR JON KROSNICK
The Stanford political psychologist gives his take on this year’s extraordinary election
BY SARA MARTIN