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On the Use of Different Kinds of Political Message Frames to Appeal to Different Kinds of Voters

Faculty Mentor: Jarret Crawford

Student: Sean Modri

Our objective was to explore the content of people’s stereotypes of liberals and conservatives. Existing research on such political stereotype content lacked a theoretical focus. We therefore examined political stereotype content from the perspective of two recently developed theories of stereotype content: dehumanization theory (DT) and the stereotype content model (SCM). DT posits that groups may be perceived as emotional and open (human nature; HN) or organized and civil (human uniqueness; HU). The SCM states that all stereotypes fall along the dimensions of warmth (how much a group is liked) and competence (how agentic a group is perceived).  Based on lay stereotypes of liberals and conservatives, we predicted that liberals would be perceived as possessing more HN than HU, and as more warm than competent, whereas conservatives would be perceived as possessing more HU than HN, and as more competent than warm. We tested these hypotheses using three online surveys of U.S. adults. In Studies 1 and 2, results largely supported the prediction that liberals are perceived as higher in HN than HU, but conservatives as higher in HU than HN. This did not vary by whether the participant was liberal or conservative. Moreover, this did not depend on the type of liberal (e.g., social liberal vs. big government liberal) or conservative (e.g., evangelical conservative vs. economic conservative) people evaluated. In Study 3, liberals evaluated conservatives for HN and HU traits, as well as warmth and competence. Liberals perceived conservatives as higher in HU traits and competence than HN traits and warmth. These results bring theoretical focus on people’s beliefs about liberals and conservatives.