Religious Symbols and the Evaluation of Ethno-religious Minority Candidate

By | on May 17, 2019 | 0 Comment


Colin Scott
Department of Political Science, McGill University
Supervisor: Dietlind Stolle





Intergroup conflict over the accommodation of religious diversity presents a challenge to the social and political participation of certain minority groups. When candidates from religious minority backgrounds stand for election, do their religious symbols cue stereotypes that could cause voters to penalize them at the ballot box? If so, to what extent are voters’ reactions driven by political values and group stereotypes? In my second dissertation article, I aim to address these questions to better understand the implications of growing religious diversity on majority group members’ vote choice and the electoral fortunes of religious minority candidates. The focus of my proposed research addresses important research questions relating to several of the CSDC’s research themes, including the adaptation and integration of new citizens (theme 1.3); learning social solidarity (theme 1.4); perceiving the public world (theme 2.2); and, political responsiveness, representation, and accountability (theme 3.3). I aim to build on research in political psychology on candidate evaluation by examining whether religious symbols cue group stereotypes to influence voters’ judgments of candidates from visible minority backgrounds.

Voters are often required to make decisions with limited information, relying on group cues to make judgments about candidates’ attributes or issue positions. As migration patterns result in increasing religious diversity in Western societies, an understanding of the stereotype content cued by non-traditional religious symbols and its role in shaping voter decision-making can improve our understanding of the biases candidates from diverse backgrounds face at the ballot box. One way candidates from religious minority backgrounds may be penalized at the voting booth is if they are perceived as violating voters’ values. Perceptions of value violation may arise through social categorization processes such as stereotyping. Overtly religious minority candidates may be evaluated differently as a result of religious symbols because such cues may signal a lack of integration into the national community, especially among voters endorsing secular and assimilationist values.

To test these hypotheses, I will experimentally manipulate election campaign materials (i.e., candidate brochures) for a (mock) municipal election, where party cues are usually not salient. The experimental manipulation for this study consists of evaluating ostensible campaign materials that outline the picture and policy platform of three candidates running in a (fictitious) local election under the guise of a “political marketing study.” First, participants will complete a questionnaire consisting of demographics and measures of social and political attitudes, followed by the experimental manipulation, and questions about participants’ perceptions of the candidates as well as their preferred candidate. Finally, participants are given a semantic association task, a cognitive procedure to sample the considerations respondents draw on when evaluating the campaign materials of the candidates.

To conduct the study, a survey firm will be contracted to disseminate study materials to participants in a national online panel. The study will be designed, programmed, and pilot tested by myself in consultation with my supervisory committee. Data will be collected by drawing on the Media Lab’s online research tools, including Qualtrics to program and disseminate the survey experiment, and Inquisit, to embed a social-cognitive association task into the study.