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The influence of political candidate brands during the 2012 and 2016 US presidential elections

Eric Van Steenburg (Jake Jabs College of Business and Entrepreneurship, Montana State University, Bozeman, Montana, USA)
Francisco Guzmán (G. Brint Ryan College of Business, Marketing, Logistics and Operations Management, University of North Texas, Denton, Texas, USA)

European Journal of Marketing

ISSN: 0309-0566

Article publication date: 8 August 2019

Issue publication date: 21 November 2019




The purpose of this paper is to investigate whether voters consider a candidate’s brand image when evaluating election alternatives. That is, how prominent a role does the candidate brand image have in the decision-making process? As election outcomes are behavior-driven, the goal is to examine the potential relationship between the candidate brand image, the self-brand image and voting intention.


Data were collected for the third week of October 2012 and again for the same time in 2016 – three weeks prior to the US presidential election each year. An online-based nationwide survey was leveraged, followed by correlation, regression and mediation analysis.


Candidate brand image has a role in US presidential elections. In addition, candidate brand image and self-brand image are significantly related to voting intention. In both elections, the losing candidate’s brand image was more of a factor when it came to voting intention, as both candidates’ brand image mediated the relationships between self-brand image and voting intention for all voters.

Research limitations/implications

A link between candidate brand image and voting intention was demonstrated for perhaps the first time. With results showing candidate brand image does relate to the voter’s self-brand image and voting intention, future research should investigate what other brand elements are a factor. There are undoubtedly other factors – some branding-related, others not branding-related – that go into voter decision-making. Because results were stronger for a losing candidate than a winning one, research should also examine whether this occurrence was coincidence or consistent voter behavior.

Practical implications

When voters considered who might best represent themselves, the brand image of the candidate enhanced the likelihood of voting for, or against, the candidate. Therefore, it is highly recommended that campaign managers understand not only the importance of their candidate’s brand image to develop and maintain a positive image among their supporters but also how to highlight what their supporters view as the negative aspects of the opposing candidates’ brand image to increase the lack of affinity for competitors.


This research demonstrates, for the first time, that candidates’ brand image is considered by voters in a US presidential election. In addition, it discovers the role candidate brand image plays in voting intention. Finally, it provides direction for campaign managers to conduct research into candidates as brands to build brand relationships with the electorate.



Van Steenburg, E. and Guzmán, F. (2019), "The influence of political candidate brands during the 2012 and 2016 US presidential elections", European Journal of Marketing, Vol. 53 No. 12, pp. 2629-2656.



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Copyright © 2019, Emerald Publishing Limited

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