Educating the Least Informed: Group Endorsements in a Grassroots Campaign


  • Direct comments and questions to Kevin Arceneaux. An earlier version of the article circulated under the title “The Messenger or the Message? Group Endorsements, Heuristics, and Grassroots Campaigning” and was presented at the 2007 State Politics and Policy Conference, Austin, TX, and the 2007 American Political Science Association, Chicago. We owe a debt of gratitude to Michael Hagen and the Temple University Institute for Public Affairs, whose support and generous funding made this project possible. We thank Don Green, David Nickerson, Todd Rodgers, seminar participants at Temple University and the University of Notre Dame, along with the anonymous reviewers for helpful comments. We also thank Justin Gollob for his research assistance. Of course, any errors are ours.

Kevin Arceneaux is Associate Professor of Political Science, Temple University, 453 Gladfelter Hall, 1115 W. Berks St., Philadelphia, PA 19122 ( Robin Kolodny is Associate Professor of Political Science, Temple University, 437 Gladfelter Hall, 1115 W. Berks St., Philadelphia, PA 19122 (


Theories of low-information rationality claim that uninformed voters can compensate for their lack of political knowledge by employing heuristics, such as interest group endorsements, to make voting decisions as if they were fully informed. Critics of low-information rationality contend that politically unaware voters are unlikely to use group endorsements effectively as a heuristic since they are unlikely to know the political relevance of interest groups. We address this debate by entertaining the possibility that contextual information coupled with a source cue may enhance the effectiveness of group endorsements as a heuristic. We test competing expectations with a field experiment conducted during the 2006 election in two highly competitive Pennsylvania statehouse races where a well-known liberal interest group endorsed Democratic candidates and canvassed both core supporters and Republicans believed to be likeminded. Our results reveal that Republicans used the endorsement as a negative voting cue and that the group's endorsement helped some Republicans compensate for their lack of awareness about politics.