A Different Kind of Disadvantage: Candidate Race, Cognitive Complexity, and Voter Choice

Melody Crowder-Meyer, Shana Kushner Gadarian, Jessica Trounstine, Kau Vue

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


Voters use heuristics to help them make decisions when they lack information about political choices. Candidate appearance operates as a powerful low-information cue. However, widely held stereotypes mean that reliance on such a heuristic can reduce support for candidates of color. We argue that racial prejudices are more likely to dominate decision making when electoral environments require voters to expend more cognitive resources—such as when they must choose multiple candidates at once. Using two experiments we find that black candidates receive less support from cognitively taxed voters than from voters who have the cognitive space to intentionally limit their prejudices when voting. We also reveal that this pattern is particularly evident among ideologically liberal voters. Respondents who profess politically liberal views support black candidates more often than white candidates when the cognitive task is simple but are less likely to do so when they are cognitively taxed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)509-530
Number of pages22
JournalPolitical Behavior
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 1 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • Cognitive complexity
  • Experiment
  • Heuristics
  • Local politics
  • Race
  • Voter behavior

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science


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