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Is Personality Key? Persuasive Effects of Prior Attitudes and Personality in Political Microtargeting

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Abstract:  Messages that are designed to match a recipient’s personality, as enabled by microtargeting, have been found to influence political reasoning and even voting intentions. We extended these findings by adding prior attitudes to a microtargeting setting. Specifically, we examined what role different microtargeting approaches play in political reasoning by conducting an online experiment with a 2 (extraverted vs. introverted communication) × 2 (attitude-congruent vs. attitude-incongruent statement) between-subject design (N = 368). In line with the assumptions of the theory of motivated reasoning, attitude position matching emerged as an effective microtargeting strategy, and attitude strength moderated the effect of attitude congruency on recipients’ evaluations of political ads. While extraverted messages had no direct effect, that was unrelated to attitude congruency, recipients’ level of extraversion moderated the effect of extraverted communication on their evaluation of an ad. Interestingly, the intention to vote was significantly higher when an attitude-incongruent statement was phrased in an introverted rather than an extraverted manner, suggesting that information that challenges prior attitudes might be more persuasive when it is delivered in a more temperate way. In sum, the study indicates that matching message with personality alone might not be the most effective microtargeting approach within democratic societies.

Keywords:  extraversion; motivated reasoning; political attitudes; political microtargeting; personality traits

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.17645/mac.v11i3.6627


© Hannah Decker, Nicole Krämer. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0), which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction of the work without further permission provided the original author(s) and source are credited.