Mortality salience, system justification, and candidate evaluations in the 2012 U.S. Presidential election

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Experiments conducted during the 2004 and 2008 U.S. presidential elections suggested that mortality salience primes increased support for President George W. Bush and Senator John McCain, respectively. Some interpreted these results as reflecting “conservative shift” following exposure to threat, whereas others emphasized preferences for “charismatic” leadership following exposure to death primes. To assess both hypotheses in the context of a new election cycle featuring a liberal incumbent who was considered to be charismatic, we conducted four experiments shortly before the 2012 election involving President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney. Contrary to earlier studies, there was little evidence that mortality salience, either by itself or in interaction with political orientation, affected overall candidate ratings or voting intentions. However, a significant interaction between mortality salience and system justification in some studies indicated a more circumscribed effect. The failure to “replicate” previous results in the context of this election may be attributable to disagreement among participants as to which of the candidates better represented the societal status quo.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere0150556
JournalPloS one
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2016


ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • General

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