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The nonverbal display of confidence is strongly associated with leadership and power. However, its importance for the persuasiveness of campaign messages has not been explored. How important is showing confidence for a political candidate’s ratings? How does confidence condition the effect of the quality of a candidate’s arguments? This article addresses these questions using an innovative experimental approach that makes it possible to better isolate the impact of the candidate’s nonverbal confidence and the quality of his message. While both of these aspects influence voters’ perceptions of the candidate’s electability and qualifications, the nonverbal dimension matters more when it comes to electability. This research contributes to the study of nonverbal communication in elections by expanding the focus of inquiry beyond the effect of pure emotions (happiness or anger) and facial traits.
We study strategic voting behaviour in winner-take-all elections by means of an original study in which participants vote to collectively decide how much money should be given to an environmental NGO. We find that supporters of the most NGO-friendly party are reluctant to abandon it, despite its poor electoral viability. The poor electoral viability generates significant anxiety among its supporters and the level of anxiety at the time of voting influences their choice. Moderate levels of anxiety increase the probability of defection, but at high levels, anxiety has a paralyzing effect, making voters less likely to abandon their preferred choice.
We propose an experimental design particularly adapted to the study of individual behavior in collective action situations. The experimental protocol improves on the artificiality that is commonly present in lab and survey experiments to achieve a closer replication of the real-life conditions of such decisions while avoiding the high costs associated with field experiments. We exemplify this design by means of a study on strategic voting in elections.
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