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Keywords:

  • priming;
  • campaign effects;
  • candidate image;
  • deliberation;
  • Senate elections;
  • voting

A growing body of evidence suggests that campaigns affect voters by priming the criteria on which voters base their decisions. Yet virtually all of this work uses simulated campaign rhetoric and/or relies on indirect measures of vote choice. This paper combines a content analysis of media campaign coverage with an Election Day exit poll to explore the impact of a real-world campaign—the 2000 campaign for the U.S. Senate in Minnesota—on voters’ decisions. In this case, the campaign did in fact prime exposed and attentive voters to base their decisions on the issues and images emphasized in the campaign. Such campaign effects were reinforced by interpersonal discussions. The results constitute the first demonstration of priming effects in a U.S. election with voters at the polls.