Undecided voters may already have decided, study suggests
Do "undecided" voters actually make their choices before they realize?
That is a question University of Virginia psychology professor Brian Nosek and his colleagues are trying to answer.
"Many people, especially early in the political process, declare themselves as undecided," Nosek said. "But while they have consciously said that they are undecided, they unconsciously may have already made a choice."
The research team operates "Project Implicit," a publicly accessible research and education Web site (www.implicit.harvard.edu at which visitors can complete the Implicit Association Test to measure their own implicit associations. The test is available for a variety of topics, including an "Obama-McCain" task that was developed for the U.S. presidential election.
In its 10 years of existence, about 7 million people have completed tests at the Web site, including more than 25,000 who have tested their implicit preferences regarding presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain.
"Undecided voters may have decided implicitly before they know that they have explicitly," Nosek said. U.S. undecided voters, on average, reported feeling slightly warmer toward Obama than McCain, but they implicitly showed a slight preference for McCain over Obama.
Instead, the study offers an opportunity to learn how implicit preferences may shape the decisions of undecided voters. It follows a recent Italian study that showed that the implicit preferences of undecided voters predicted their eventual vote.
Other preliminary findings from the large U.S. study:
Implicitly, Democrats are strongly pro-Obama, and Republicans are strongly pro-McCain, similar to their explicit preferences.
Independents are implicitly pro-Obama, on average, similar to current polling results.
The most intriguing subsample is the large number of undecideds who appear to be leaning toward McCain implicitly and toward Obama explicitly.
"Participants are often surprised to learn that they may have unconscious biases regarding candidates, or racial or religious views that are quite different from their stated beliefs," Nosek said. "For example, few people in modern society are actively racist, but most of us possess implicit associations linking white people with good and black people with bad more easily than the reverse."