RATS, We Should Have Used Clinton: Subliminal Priming in Political Campaigns



Political strategists decide daily how to market their candidates. Growing recognition of the importance of implicit processes (processes occurring outside of awareness) suggests limitations to focus groups and polling, which rely on conscious self-report. Two experiments, inspired by national political campaigns, employed Internet-presented subliminal primes to study evaluations of politicians. In Experiment 1, the subliminal word “RATS” increased negative ratings of an unknown politician. In Experiment 2, conducted during former California Governor Gray Davis's recall referendum, a subliminal photo of Clinton affected ratings of Davis, primarily among Independents. Results showed that subliminal stimuli can affect ratings of well-known as well as unknown politicians. Further, subliminal studies can be conducted in a mass media outlet (the Internet) in real time and supplement voter self-report, supporting the potential utility of implicit measures for campaign decision making.