Candidate Strategies to Prime Issues and Image


James N. Druckman is Lippincott Associate Professor of political science, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN 55455-0410, ( Lawrence R. Jacobs is professor of political science and Humphrey Institute, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN 55455-0410, (ljacobs@ Eric Ostermeier is a Ph.D. Candidate of political science, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN 55455-0410, (


A burgeoning literature shows that campaigns exert substantial influence on voters by priming selected policy issues. We extend this research by offering a framework that (1) incorporates a model of campaign image priming and (2) describes the political conditions that shape campaign priming strategies. We test our framework in the context of Richard Nixon's 1972 presidential campaign. Using internal campaign memoranda, Nixon's private public opinion polls, and a comprehensive content analysis of Nixon's public statements, we find that Nixon engaged in both issue and image priming. Specifically, White House polling reports of strong public support for particular domestic policy positions prompted Nixon subsequently to prime those issues and positions. Moreover, poll reports of negative evaluations of his personality traits led Nixon to emphasize foreign policy issues so as to convey an impression of his competence and strength. We conclude that candidates tailor issue and image priming strategies to the parameters of public opinion and the strategic opportunities offered by the political conditions of their time.