The "mill worker's son" heuristic: How voters perceive politicians from working-class families-And how they really behave in office

Journal Article (Journal Article)

Politicians often highlight how hard their families had it when they were growing up, presumably in the hopes that voters will see them as more supportive of policies that benefit middle-and working-class Americans. What do voters actually infer from how candidates were raised? And what should they infer? We use a set of candidate evaluation experiments (and an external validity test drawing on actual congressional election returns) to study how Americans perceive politicians raised in more and less affluent families. We then compare these perceptions to data on how lawmakers brought up in different classes actually behave in office. Although voters often infer that politicians from less privileged families are more economically progressive, these lawmakers don't actually stand out on standard measures of legislative voting. The "mill worker's son" heuristic appears to be a misleading shortcut, a cue that leads voters to make faulty inferences about candidates' political priorities.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Carnes, N; Sadin, ML

Published Date

  • January 1, 2015

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 77 / 1

Start / End Page

  • 285 - 298

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 1468-2508

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 0022-3816

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1086/678530

Citation Source

  • Scopus