Political Waffling: Its Effects on the Evaluations of Observers1


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    This article is based on the first author's doctoral dissertation, conducted under the supervision of the second author.

Requests for reprints should be sent to Charles S. Carver, Department of Psychology, University of Miami, P.O. Box 248185, Coral Gables, Florida 33124.


Politicians sometimes shift the stances that they take on issues. An experiment investigated the effect of such a shift upon observers' perceptions of and feelings about an ostensible candidate for public office. The target issue (private ownership of handguns) was chosen as being relatively emotional for some subjects and unemotional for others. Subjects were also selected (independently) as being either pro or con on the issue. The position taken by the stimulus person (who, in contrast to previous research, was identified as a candidate for office) was portrayed as initially being either similar or dissimilar to that of the subject. An assessment of the candidate's position 6 months later indicated either no change or a reversal of the initial position. Subjects' evaluations of the candidate on a variety of dimensions yielded a consistent pattern. The combination of initial agreement and final agreement was viewed more favorably than any other combination. Taken together, the data suggest two conclusions. First, there was no support in this context for the notion that a shift from disagreement to agreement would be especially valued (i.e., there was no “gain” effect). Second, in the realm of politics, people value consistent agreement with their own position—but they do not reward consistency per se.