Graduation Year


Date of Thesis Acceptance

Spring 5-10-2017

Major Department or Program



Emily W. Bushnell, Ph.D.


Previous studies have indicated that there are foundational and cognitive differences between conservatives and liberals. Past research has also indicated that shifts in political attitudes can occur as the result of certain cognitive stimuli, such as mortality salience. We sought to explore the malleable nature of individuals’ political affiliation and attitudes by observing the effects of political messages (Anti-Trump and Anti-Clinton advertisements) on their political attitudes. We looked at shifts in political attitudes in the context of American politics and the 2016 presidential election, with our study spanning pre- and post-election. In order to clearly analyze and observe shifts in political attitudes, we worked within the construct of two party political system (conservatives and liberals) and used a three-phase approach. Participants (n =54) were given implicit and explicit measures three different times to monitor their potential shifts in political attitudes. Participants were also shown negative valence political ads to potentially create a shift in their political attitudes. Self-reported political affiliation was used to distribute participants into one of three video presentation groups (Anti-Trump, Anti-Clinton, or Control). Results of this study indicated that neither mortality salience nor political advertisements create a shift in political attitudes, whether measured implicitly or explicitly. Findings do, however, suggest that advertisements and mortality salience may shift participants’ favorability for candidates--only after the election outcome is known. Future researchers should look into cognitive processes involved in the divided two-party system of American politics.

Keywords: Liberal, Conservative, political attitudes, mortality salience, negative stimuli, 2016 election

Page Count


Subject Headings

Presidents -- United States -- Election -- 2016, Donald Trump (1946- ), Hillary Rodham Clinton, Party affiliations -- United States, United States -- Politics and government, Presidents -- United States -- Election -- Campaign trail, Conservatives -- United States -- Attitudes, Liberalism -- Political aspects, Mortality -- Mortality salience, Aversive stimuli -- negative stimuli, Political advertising, Social sciences, Whitman College -- Dissertation collection 2017 -- Psychology Department

Permanent URL

Document Type

Public Accessible Thesis

Included in

Psychology Commons



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