Washington, October 29 : Americans who claim that they have yet not decided whether to cast their votes in favour of Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama or his Republican counterpart John McCain might actually have implicitly made their choices, even though they have not realized it so far.
This suggestion comes from a team of researchers from the University of Virginia, Harvard University, and Tony Greenwald of the University of Washington.
"Many people, especially early in the political process, declare themselves as undecided. But while they have consciously said that they are undecided, they unconsciously may have already made a choice," said lead researcher Brian Nosek, a psychology professor at the University of Virginia.
The team have developed the Implicit Association Test to assess mental associations, which may be different than what people know or say about themselves.
They operate "Project Implicit", a publicly accessible research and education Web site called www.implicit.harvard.edu at which visitors can complete the Implicit Association Test to measure their own implicit associations.
Over 25,000 people have tested their implicit preferences regarding presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain.
The researchers have noticed that many of the 15 percent participants, who declared themselves as undecided between voting for Obama or McCain, show an implicit preference for the two candidates despite their explicit indecision.
"Undecided voters may have decided implicitly before they know that they have explicitly," Nosek said.
The researcher pointed out that undecided voters, on average, reported feeling slightly warmer toward Obama than McCain, but they implicitly showed a slight preference for McCain over Obama.
"Participants are often surprised to learn that they may have unconscious biases regarding candidates, or racial or religious views that are quite different from their stated beliefs," Nosek said.
"For example, few people in modern society are actively racist, but most of us possess implicit associations linking white people with good and black people with bad more easily than the reverse," he added.
The divergence between implicit and explicit beliefs suggests that behavior may be influenced both by deliberate, explicit beliefs and by automatic, implicit reactions, Nosek said.
When it comes to "undecided" voters, the comparative influence of these unique feelings will become apparent the moment the vote is cast.
The researchers are planning to follow up with the participants immediately after the election to assess their ultimate vote, so as to determine whether implicit or explicit preferences drive the undecided voters' votes.
While Project Implicit's sample of voters is large, it is not a representative sample of the US.
"With this study, we cannot draw conclusions about the electorate as a whole or whether implicit preferences are strong enough to swing the election," Nosek said.