Lesser Known Elections and the Mere Exposure Effect

Our local, highly contested, primary campaigns are in full swing right now.  Every street corner is packed with signs, and every commercial break is packed with attack ads.  The races cover broad contests; from high profile races to the governor’s mansion and a federal congressional seat to little known seats on the school board and county council. 

So, when I looked over the sample ballot, there were a number of names that I didn’t know much about.  But, as I looked at those names, I realized that something grabbed me about some of them.  I recognized the name, and my mind told me to pick that person.  Then, I thought for a second.  Why did I recognize that name?  I had seen signs for the candidate, which told me nothing more than that they were running and had enough money in their coffers to afford laminated cardboard with their name.  What did I actually know about the candidate, other than a name?  Absolutely nothing. 

With this in mind, I did some research on some, and decided not to decide on a few others.  But the urge to vote for the familiar ones had been there, and it had been strong.  If I hadn’t bothered to look at the sample ballot, I can completely see how I could have just marked the ballot for them without thinking (and I believe that I have done this in the past). 

Turns out, psychologists have studied this phenomenon.  The “mere exposure effect” is a psychological phenomenon that occurs when people feel an affinity for people or things merely because they have seen them before.  It is completely illogical, and not based on any actual experience, positive or negative, only on the sense of familiarity that occurs. 

In the 1960’s, a researcher named Robert Zajonc exposed subjects to various stimuli, which should have other been neutral, and then tested their reactions to these stimuli compared to unfamilar ones.  The subjects rated the stimuli they had seen before more positively.  Researchers have found the effect to hold for a variety of different designs, words, symbols, and photographs.  It even works when the subject is exposed to the stimulus so quickly he or she does not conciously perceive it. 

Think you’re too smart for this?  Try it yourself here.  Or just think about it next time you go to vote, and you’re considering those “lesser known” elections.

How tremendously terrible are the Democratic nominees in Shelby County, TN?

So bad, they’re not even pretending they’re not.  And they expect voters to just deal with it. 

It is understandable — if a tad abrupt — that a spokesperson for one of the two major parties in Shelby County should dismiss the other party’s freshly minted nominees for county offices as “duds.”

That’s what Shelby County Republican chairman Lang Wiseman, extolling his own “great candidates,” had to say at a post-election GOP rally concerning the Democratic victors in May 4 primary voting.

What is less customary is that such a spokesperson’s opposite number — in this case, Gale Jones Carson, one of two campaign co-chairs (the other is Dave Cambron) for the August 5 general election — should be advising Democratic cadres at a post-election rally to “hold your nose” and vote for all her party’s nominees “whether you like them or not.”

What are you going to do, Memphis, vote Republican?

Who is Ahead in the TN 3rd District Republican Primary?

At the Tea Party Debate between the GOP primary candidates last Saturday, which I live-tweeted, Van Irions mentioned several times that he was leading “in the polls.”  I receive emails from the Irions campaign, and have received several emails from the campaign urging me to “vote” for Irions at this website, Topix.com.  The results look like this:

Who would you vote for in the 3rd Congressional race

Click on an option to vote

  •  Tommy Crangle-R
  •  Chuck Fleischmann-R
  • Tim Gobble-R
  • Art Rhodes-R
  • Robin Smith-R
  •  Van Irion- R
  •  Mark DeVol -I
Van Irion- R 88   46%
Tim Gobble-R 36   19%
Chuck Fleischmann-R 33   17%
Art Rhodes-R 19   10%
Robin Smith-R 7   3%
Tommy Crangle-R 3   1%
Mark DeVol -I 2   1%
Current Total 188

*Last week, I received an email from the campaign boasting that they were leading in the same poll. 

I also receive emails from the Chuck Fleischman campaign; I have not received any emails requesting my vote in this poll.  There is also an online poll at the Chattanooga Tea Party website (viewing or voting in the poll requires registration, I’m basing this post on an email from the campaign sent on Feb. 26), which again is based only on votes by whoever happens to click. Notably, Irion is in 2nd place in this poll, with 26% of the vote, based on that email (with Fleishman a very close 3rd at 24% and Gobble leading with 33%). 

I was not able to find any other polls regarding this race. 

Was Irion, at the debate, boasting about his success in an online, unscientific poll that is weighed in his favor by asking his supporters to vote in it?  If the answer is yes, I find that quite dishonest. 

* Originally, I wrote that I had received the email “today,” which was incorrect.  The email was dated last week; I was just cleaning out the inbox today (well, now yesterday) when I read it.