Of Two Minds, But One Heart: A Good “Gut” Feeling Moderates the Effect of Ambivalence on Attitude Formation and Turnout


Popular psychological accounts argue that successful candidates address their appeals to citizens’ “hearts” rather than their “heads.” Yet research on campaigns shows that candidates win elections by getting voters to think about particular issues—especially issues that create ambivalence in the minds of opposition supporters. This article helps to reconcile these “heart-centered” and “head-centered” accounts of preference formation during campaigns. An original experiment and ANES data analyses (1980–2004) show that a “good gut feeling” toward a candidate helps citizens to overcome the paralyzing effect of ambivalence on attitude formation and turnout. And, since turnout is most tenuous among those with lower income, this is where the effect is most pronounced. Since Democratic candidates rely disproportionately on support from these lower-income voters, it is particularly important that they inspire positive affect among latent supporters.

Publication Title

American Journal of Political Science