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Priming and the Obama Effect on Public Evaluations of the United States



This article investigates the psychological basis for the dramatic improvement in the Canadian public's evaluations of the United States following President Obama's inauguration. It attributes this change to a media priming effect triggered by Obama's increased visibility in Canadian news coverage of the United States in 2008 and 2009. A survey experiment conducted on a sample of undergraduate students at a Canadian university is used to illustrate this priming effect. Mentioning President Obama in an unrelated question leads participants to evaluate the United States more positively than in a control group. This assimilation effect is particularly strong when compared to a condition in which former President Bush is mentioned instead of President Obama. The results also show that the Obama priming effect is moderated by political awareness such that individuals with intermediate levels of awareness are most sensitive to the Obama prime.