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Managing Monikers: The Role of Name Presentation in the 2008 Presidential Election


  • AUTHORS' NOTE: We thank Jason Barabas, Bill Berry, Jens Grosser, Christina Haynes, Bob Jackson, Jennifer Jerit, Patrick Mason, Cherie Maestas, Will Moore, Mark Souva, the anonymous reviewers, and the students in the Spring 2008 Honors Seminar on Racial Attitudes for their helpful comments.

Ray Block Jr., is an assistant professor of American politics at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. He studies American politics, political participation, public opinion, and minority group politics.

Chinonye Onwunli is a graduate student in the political science department at Florida State University. Her research interests include public policy and minority group politics.


Given America's widespread contempt for Islamic extremists, Obama's Muslim-sounding moniker could have cost him electoral support. Consequently, anecdotal evidence suggests that Obama played a “name game” in which he deflected suspicions about his religious background by avoiding use of his middle name (Hussein) and minimizing the frequency with which his opponents used it. Did the presentation of Obama's name affect how voters evaluated him? Results from a web-based experiment suggest that the answer varies by political orientation. Among Republicans and conservatives, Obama's favorability ratings are generally lower when his middle name is present. Name presentation had little effect on Democrats and liberals, and moderates and independents rated the president more favorably when his middle name appeared. Regardless of party identification or political ideology, name presentation had no effect on the probability of voting for Obama.