UCI Psychology Study: Voters Conflicted About Mavericks

SANTA ANA, Calif. -- Political mavericks -- such as Sen. John McCain, whose White House race has been fueled by his reputation for going his own way -- inspire conflicting feelings among voters, according to UC Irvine research released Monday.

UC Irvine Study: Political Mavericks

"People have been hard-wired through evolution to care about trustworthiness," according to UC Irvine psychology professor Peter Ditto, who conducted the study with graduate student Andrew Mastronarde.

"We are social animals who have always had to rely on cooperation with others to survive," Ditto said. "When a person acts contrary to his own self-interest, such as challenging his own group when (toeing) the party lines would be to his advantage, it is a powerful signal of trustworthiness.

However, because maverick politicians may disagree with their own group on important issues, they can expect to experience significant backlash from members of their own political party, even though they gain respect from those holding opposing views, Ditto said.

The study showed that candidates could best use their maverick reputation as a political asset by shifting public focus away from specific policy issues to general issues of character.

"When people focus on issues of character, they like mavericks," Ditto said. "But when they are focused more on issues, the influence is negative."

The research involved three separate studies by Ditto and Mastronarde to gauge public attitudes about political mavericks, the researchers said.

In the first study, participants expressed more positive views of political mavericks in general.

The second study found that political mavericks described in character terms were evaluated more favorably than party-line politicians, even when the maverick was of the participant's own party.

The final study found that when participants were provided with specific policy stances, opposing party mavericks were evaluated more positively and same party mavericks were evaluated more negatively, than were their party-line counterparts.

Those participating in the study included UCI undergraduates, shoppers at a local outdoor mall and several thousand adult U.S. citizens who completed online questionnaires.

The research appears online in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.

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