Published: June 18, 2020

John D. Griffin, Brian Newman, and Patrick Buhr

Published: 2020, Legislative Studies Quarterly 45(1)


Do Americans care how much money congressional candidates earn? We conducted three experiments to examine how candidates' incomes affect voters' perceptions of the candidates' traits and ultimately their vote intention. Subjects evaluated otherwise identical candidates with annual incomes randomly varying between $75,000, $3 million, and a candidate with no income information provided. Results from the three experiments are remarkably similar. Subjects viewed the $3 million earner as significantly more intelligent than the candidate with no income information provided, but this benefit of high income was overshadowed by significant biases against the $3 million candidate. Subjects consistently viewed the $3 million earner as less honest, less caring, and less representative of them than the other candidates. Ultimately, subjects were less likely to say they would vote for the $3 million candidate. These findings demonstrate that the campaign advantages that high‐income candidates enjoy are somewhat offset by voters' initial bias against them.

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