This Psychological Concept Could Be Shaping the Presidential Election

Could Warren’s political fate in 2020 turn on voters who think she would make a great president choosing another candidate because they think that’s what their neighbors will do?Photograph by Maverick Pictures / Shutterstock

Not too long ago, I briefly met Elizabeth Warren in a restaurant in Cambridge, near Harvard, where I’m now a postdoc in psychology. My dad and I saw the Massachusetts senator, a 2020 presidential candidate, walking in as we were walking out. “Give ’em hell,” my dad told the senator, harkening back to Harry Truman’s 1948 presidential campaign. She laughed. “That’s what I do!”

Last summer, in a New York Times article about Warren, a voter stated, “I love her enthusiasm. She’s smart, she’s very smart. I think she would make an amazing president,” before adding, “I’m worried about whether she can win.”1 The voter’s sentiment is reflected in a 2019 poll in which 74 percent of Democrats said they would be comfortable with a female president, yet only 33 percent of them thought their neighbors felt the same way.2 

Pluralistic ignorance stymied friendship among black and white students.

Last week in the Iowa caucus primary,

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