HETEROGENEITY AND CERTAINTY
IN CANDIDATE EVALUATIONS
David A. M. Peterson
While perceptions of candidate character traits are believed to be an important pre-
dictor of vote choice, very little research attempts to explain where these perceptions
come from. There is also a remarkable inconsistency in the literature about which
voters use traits and which use issues in voting—with completely contradictory results
common. The solution to the inconsistency developed here is to focus on the rela-
tionship between issues and traits as opposed to just these attitudes’ direct effect on
candidate evaluations. By positing that the relationship between issues and trait per-
ceptions depends on the citizen’s certainty about the candidate’s issue positions the
theory develop here answers questions about the nature of trait perceptions and the
heterogeneity of voter decisionmaking. The theory is tested using evaluations of ten
different presidential candidates from ﬁve National Election Studies.
Key words: candidate evaluations; certainty; trait perceptions; voter heterogeneity.
Voters evaluate candidates like they evaluate other people they encounter.
We form impressions of candidates’ abilities, intelligence, integrity, and hon-
esty, and we rate and evaluate the candidates in part based on our assessment
of what they are like as people. These perceptions of candidate character traits
are one of a few central components of vote choice, on par with partisanship,
issue positions, or assessments of the economy. In the literature, trait per-
ceptions are often connected to two questions. Are traits more important than
issues? And, perhaps more commonly, which voters rely on traits and which
rely on issues when voting? Unfortunately, both questions have produced very
inconsistent answers. For the instance, Miller, Wattenberg, and Malanchuk
David A. M. Peterson, Department of Political Science, College Station, Texas A&M University,
Texas 77843-4348 (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Political Behavior, Vol. 27, No. 1, March 2005 (
0190-9320/05/0300-0001/0 Ó 2005 Springer Science+Business Media Inc.