Place-Based Imagery and Voter Evaluations: Experimental Evidence on the Politics of Place

Date01 June 2019
Published date01 June 2019
Subject MatterArticles
Political Research Quarterly
2019, Vol. 72(2) 263 –277
© 2018 University of Utah
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/1065912918781035
Politicians and pundits describe America in many ways:
there is a red America and a blue America; whites live in
one place, none-whites in another; the United States has
two liberal coastlines and an expansive conservative
heartland in the middle. Yet, while geography is implicit
in all these characterizations of contemporary politics, it
is almost always relied upon to illustrate one of the more
commonly discussed determinants of American political
behavior—partisanship, race, ideology. While these three
markers of political and social identity have long been
used to understand the sources and structure of public
opinion (Converse 2006; Fiske and Taylor 1984; Kinder
and Sanders 1996), physical places can serve a similar
function in shaping political attitudes. As the seminal
geographer John Agnew (1987) argues, an individual’s
perception, appreciation, and realization of a physical
space and the features of that space filter the impressions
of political action that take place within it. Place is more
than just a picture in one’s head—it is a personal and
emotional attachment to the spaces where people work,
play, and live, which in turn structures how we interpret
political phenomenon that affect those.
In this paper, we present results of a survey experiment
designed to measure the independent effects of geography
on voters’ evaluations of candidates running for the U.S.
Senate. Our evidence confirms a growing consensus devel-
oping in the literature that “rural consciousness” is a pre-
dominant way in which many Americans recognize and
make sense of politics (Cramer 2012, 2016). We also find
evidence to suggest that urban residents also rely on a type
of place-based identity, but that it is less tied up with feel-
ings of resentment or marginalized status. In our experi-
ment, we randomly showed respondents one of three
images for a fictional candidate running for the U.S. Senate
and asked them to evaluate how “warmly” they felt about
him. Two of the images were “micro-tailored” to the
respondents’ state of residence, with one of them showing
the candidate in front of the state’s largest city skyline, and
781035PRQXXX10.1177/1065912918781035Political Research QuarterlyJacobs and Munis
1University of Virginia, Charlottesville, USA
Corresponding Author:
B. Kal Munis, Department of Politics, University of Virginia, P.O. Box
400787, Charlottesville, VA 22904, USA.
Place-Based Imagery and Voter
Evaluations: Experimental Evidence
on the Politics of Place
Nicholas F. Jacobs1 and B. Kal Munis1
Prior research has shown that social identities defined by an attachment to place (i.e., “place-based” identities) are
influential in shaping how citizens understand and think about political topics. Moreover, prior research has also
argued that candidates sometimes use “place-based appeals” in order to win support among the electorate, and that
such appeals are seemingly widespread. While past research has provided a rich understanding of what place-based
identity and place-based appeals are, there is a large gap in what we know about the causal effects of such appeals. In
this study, we address this gap by testing experimentally the effects of place-based appeals on voters’ evaluation of
candidate likeability and ability to understand their constituents, across the broader American patchwork. Using a set
of modif‌ied campaign mailer advertisements, we alter whether respondents see an ad that uses rural or urban imagery
when introducing a candidate. Our results indicate that, consistent with existing theory, place-based appeals are
impactful in shaping political evaluations among rural voters, but do not appear as relevant for urban voters. Overall,
we argue that place—or symbolically charged geographical sites—is a useful, widespread, and potentially powerful
political heuristic.
place, politics and geography, political advertising, social identity, persuasion

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