Smearing the opposition: Implicit and explicit stigmatization of the 2008 U.S. presidential candidates and the current U.S. President

Spee Kosloff, Jeff L Greenberg, Toni Schmader, Mark Dechesne, David Weise

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

21 Scopus citations


Four studies investigated whether political allegiance and salience of outgroup membership contribute to the phenomenon of acceptance of false, stigmatizing information (smears) about political candidates. Studies 1-3 were conducted in the month prior to the 2008 U.S. Presidential election and together demonstrated that pre-standing opposition to John McCain or Barack Obama, as well as the situational salience of differentiating social categories (i.e., for Obama, race; for McCain, age), contributed to the implicit activation and explicit endorsement of smearing labels (i.e., Obama is Muslim; McCain is senile). The influence of salient differentiating categories on smear acceptance was particularly pronounced among politically undecided individuals. Study 4 clarified that social category differences heighten smear acceptance, even if the salient category is semantically unrelated to the smearing label, showing that, approximately 1 year after the election, the salience of race amplified belief that Obama is a socialist among undecided people and McCain supporters. Taken together, these findings suggest that, at both implicit and explicit cognitive levels, social category differences and political allegiance contribute to acceptance of smears against political candidates.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)383-398
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: General
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2010



  • Categorization
  • Implicit and explicit
  • Intergroup bias
  • Politics
  • Smear

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Psychology(all)
  • Developmental Neuroscience

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