Indirect Effects of Discredited Stereotypes: Social and Political Traits in Judgments of Jewish Leaders

Download data and study materials from OSF

This experiment was fielded as part of a TESS telephone survey. Data and materials for all the studies included on this survey is available here.

Principal investigators:

Adam Berinsky

Massachusetts Institute of Technology



Tali Mendelberg

Princeton University



Sample size: 1206

Field period: 10/2003-11/2003


Can stereotypes of ethnic groups have an indirect impact on voters' judgments even if voters reject them? We examine the case of Jewish leaders, and hypothesize that acceptable political stereotypes (Jews are liberal) are linked in voters' minds to unacceptable social stereotypes (Jews are shady); thus, a cue to the candidate's shadiness works indirectly by increasing the perception that the candidate is liberal, even as the shady cue is rejected. We randomly varied a candidate's Jewish identity, ideology, and shadiness. We find that the cue to the rejected social stereotype activates the more legitimate political stereotype. Under these circumstances, voters give more weight to the candidate's perceived liberalism in their evaluation and the candidate's support suffers. When the candidate takes a more extreme ideological position on issues, the effects disappear. The indirect implications for our understanding of voting and of the legacies of discrimination.


Discredited stereotypes may act through a process of spreading activation to cue-accepted stereotypes, even when available evidence contradicts existing evidence. In this case, references to a Jewish candidate being accused of shady business practices may cause individuals to perceive the candidate as more liberal, even when he holds conservative positions.

More extreme ideological descriptions of the candidate in this study may counteract the spreading activation that was perceived in earlier versions of the study with less extreme candidate issue positions.

Experimental Manipulations

Subjects were randomly read one of eight candidate descriptions in a 2 X 2 X 2 design in which the candidate was either Jewish or non-Jewish, politically conservative or liberal, and "shady" or not shady in his business practices. Participants were not told that the candidate, Howard Wilson, is fictitious. This was followed by a number of questions about the candidate and about the subjects' political opinions.


1) wilson_ideology: Recoding of the subject's judgment of the candidate's ideology on a seven-point scale where 7 is the most liberal response.
2) ber4a: Subjects' placement of the candidate on a feeling thermometer ranging from 0 to 100 where 100 represents completely positive feelings about the candidate.

Summary of Results

Once the ideological profiles are strengthened, a Jewish candidate is no more likely to be rated liberal than a non-Jew, even when he is shady. And unlike in previous versions of the study, the shady Jewish candidate is no more likely to be rated liberal than a shady non-Jew. Subjects were more likely to correctly identify the candidates issue positions with the more extreme ideological descriptions in this version of the study. The study suggests that stronger ideological positions are a limiting condition on the indirect effects of discredited stereotypes.


The results here suggest that when campaigns cue stereotypic social traits -- even discredited ones -- they may prompt indirectly a process of stereotyping by which Jewish candidates could lose political support. This process, it seems, is both cognitive and affective. It is cognitive in the sense that stereotypic social and political traits are linked together within a cognitive structure that resides in memory. The discredited social traits are activated but controlled, while the more legitimate political trait is activated and not over-ridden. Because the social is linked to the political, stereotyping can carry an indirect consequence for political judgments. But stereotyping is not only cognitive, it can also be evaluative. Many of the social stereotype traits of social groups with a history of disadvantage are negative. We found that only when a negative social trait is cued does the target of the stereotype suffer adverse consequences; the group label causes little harm by itself.

Additional Information

The TESS module is the third version of this study. The candidate profiles and question differed between studies. In the TESS module, information in the candidate profiles was more emphatic to portray the candidate as more ideologically extreme than in previous versions.


Berinsky, Adam and Tali Mendelberg. 2005. The Indirect Effects of Discredited Stereotypes in Judgments of Jewish Leaders. American Journal of Political Science. 49: 845-864.

An earlier version of this paper was presented at the Intolerance and Prejudice Conference at Washington University in St. Louis in April 2004.