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Name Recognition and Candidate Support


  • Laboratory data were collected through the Research on Individuals, Politics, and Society Laboratory at Vanderbilt University and The Omnibus Project at the University of California, Davis. We thank Jennifer Anderson, Margarita Corral, Desmond Dennis, Carl Palmer, Matt Simpson, Aimee Sobhani, Matthew Taylor, and Stephen Utych for research assistance. Many thanks to John Geer, Don Green, and Ben Highton for useful advice. We are also grateful to seminar participants at the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions at Vanderbilt University, the Center for the Study of Democratic Politics at Princeton University, the American Politics Workshop at MIT, the Political Psychology Workshop at the University of Chicago, and the Interdisciplinary Workshop on Politics and Policy at the Center for Political Studies at the University of Michigan for constructive comments. Data and replication files are available at the AJPS Data Archive on Dataverse (


The mass media devote a great deal of attention to high-profile elections, but in American political life such elections are the exception, not the rule. The majority of electoral contests feature candidates who are relative unknowns. In such situations, does name recognition breed contempt, indifference, or affection? Existing work presents modest theory and mixed evidence. Using three laboratory experiments, we provide conclusive evidence that name recognition can affect candidate support, and we offer strong evidence that a key mechanism underlying this relationship is inferences about candidate viability. We further show that the name-recognition effect dissipates in the face of a more germane cue, incumbency. We conclude with a field study that demonstrates the robustness of the name-recognition effect to a real-world political context, that of yard signs and a county election.