Do personal background characteristics of a political candidate affect voter evaluations when voters also know the candidate’s policy position? Several studies have shown that voters infer personal traits and policy positions from candidate characteristics such as gender, family background and occupation. However, in most elections, voters do not evaluate candidates absent of any policy information. We investigate whether the influence of personal background characteristics vanishes when policy information regarding a candidate is available to the voters. Using a survey experiment, we confirm that voters infer both personal traits and policy positions from the background characteristics of a candidate, and we furthermore show that explicit information on policy positions moderates the relationship between background characteristics and candidate evaluations. However, policy information does not simply crowd out the effects of candidate background characteristics. Instead, policy information can change the valence of background characteristics, turning otherwise disadvantageous characteristics into an electoral advantage.
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