Dog Bites Political Scientist



In a recent article in the Sun Sentinel, reporter Brittany Wallman described candidates’ experiences in the August primary about dogs they encountered while canvassing likely voters in Broward County and how political consultants use pictures of dogs with their candidate in their direct mail.

The article anecdotally suggests that dog owners are more likely to vote, and, more importantly, use a candidate’s dog ownership as part of their selection process.

In my 40 years of studying politics, I have never encountered any empirical evidence that “dog owners” were more likely to vote or that dog ownership was helpful in winning votes.

In fact, I can’t recall even a single political survey that included a question on dog ownership (although I’m sure someone has).


Mitch Ceasar’s dog ad during his primary committee race.

But the article did pique my curiosity, so I decided to see if there was any empirical evidence that confirmed or rejected this idea that dog ownership plays a substantive role in political campaigns. Not surprisingly, I found no studies on whether likely voters have dogs or not.

The research does, however, describe likely voters as better educated (and consequently, have more income) than non-voters and this would seem to suggest the ability and means to include a dog in their household. But again, this is pure conjecture.

On whether dog-owning voters utilize a candidate’s dog ownership in their vote choice, I found research that was right on point by one of the more respected political scientists in the field, Diane Mutz (no pun intended) from Princeton and the University of Pennsylvania.

Using the extensive National Annenberg Election Study, which contained questions on pet ownership, she was able to investigate whether dog ownership affected the vote for president in 2008 (“The Dog that Didn’t Bark: The Role of Canines in the 2008 Campaign,” PS: Political Science & Politics, Vol. 43, No. 4, 2010).

Dogs Part Of Politics

Dr. Mutz hypothesizes that pet ownership and, dog ownership in particular, has been an essential ingredient in American politics since George Washington. In fact, if one counts horses as a pet, Barack Obama was the first president elected who was pet-less.

During the campaign, she notes, Barack Obama made a widely covered promise to his children that after the election (win or lose) he would buy them a puppy. This promise, she argues, may have backfired on Obama since it publicized his lack of pet ownership and alienated a significant portion of the dog-loving population.

Mutz argues that group identification, in this case dog ownership, led some voters to choose McCain (who had dozens of pets) over Obama. Political scientists have long understood that voters use heuristics such as ethnic, racial and gender, but this is first time I have heard of dog-owner identification.

When it comes to pet ownership, the Annenberg data indicates Republicans have a leg up. In particular, Republicans have a 6% lead over Democrats when it comes to owning dogs (and also fish).

In an AP poll prior to the election she cites, dog owners supported John McCain 43% to 34%, but this could reflect, of course, more partisan differences than dog ownership.



In testing her theory, Dr. Mutz creates a statistical model (OLS) to determine if dog ownership has an independent impact on voters’ perceptions (thermometer ratings, a favorability scale) of McCain and Obama. Her complete model not only controls for partisanship, ideology and views of the economy, but an exhausted host of demographic variables, including born again Christians and gun ownership.

This extensive model finds that dog ownership, independent of all other variables, gives McCain a three-point advantage in thermometer ratings over Obama. A three-point edge may seem somewhat trivial, but it exceeds McCain’s advantage with born-again Christians. Using a vote choice model (Logit), dog ownership decreases an Obama vote by 16%!

This study has not gone by unnoticed by the Obama campaign.

The campaign staff has set up a Facebook web page entitled “Pet Lovers for Obama” featuring, of course, the first dog, Bo Obama. Not to be outdone, Mitt Romney’s campaign has also created a Facebook page called “Pet Lovers for Romney.”

Unfortunately for Romney, the comments on this page are largely about putting his dog, Seamus, in carrier on top of his car for a 12-hour trip. This campaign is really going to the dogs…



Wallman’s original post is here.

9 Responses to “Dog Bites Political Scientist”

  1. Kevin says:

    Jim, it gets even better!

    John Sides recently did an experiment where he split his sample of respondents in half. One half he showed a picture of Bo Obama, identified as “President Obama’s dog.” The other half he showed the same picture of Bo, but identified it as Ted Kennedy’s dog. The respondents were asked their favorable impressions toward the dog (on a feeling thermometer scale, I believe).

    Sides found that for people with either low favorability attitudes toward Obama or a high score on the racial resentment scale (which, as you know, purports to measure “soft” or “symbolic” racism), ratings for Bo, when identified as Obama’s dog, were significantly lower than the same types of people who saw the same picture, but Bo was not identified as belonging to Obama.



  2. Real Deal says:

    This entire thing is stupid. There are people in this world allergic to dog or cat hair. It makes them itch, sometimes they get skin rashes and all manner of respiratory discomfort. That should not disqualify them from being president.

    For that matter, who knows whether the White House dog sleeps at the foot of the president’s bed or in the basement? The entire thing is silly and the fact that people react to such crap shows that people are unaware of how campaigns use photos of dogs to manipulate them. Tell them that, make them aware of this subtle manipulation and suddenly the problem goes away.

  3. Fake Mitch Ceasar Dog Panda says:

    Looks like the joke’s on you Buddy Boy. My cute face won the Precinct Captain election for my owners, Mitch (Meat bag) and whoever she is.

    Now that Mitchy boy is elected, he can fill his Democratic Clubs with all his yes-men and “appointed” crony captains so that he rules Broward County again!

    More Bac’n for me!

  4. Meow says:

    What about cat lovers? Wouldn’t ads featuring dogs turn off those who love only cats?

  5. Two Steps says:

    @Raw Deal: Every political ad is one sided manipulation, whether they use a dog, Medicare or the federal budget. At least a dog is positive.

  6. Dan Reynolds says:

    There is a web-site called “Dogs Against Romney” that retells the story about Mitt’s dog Seamus famous ride in a dog crate tied on top of the family car.

  7. City Activist Robert Walsh says:

    Hi Buddy, oh I disagree I think dog owners are more inclined to be very resposible, caring and also very nuturing. For the record I have an 18 pound Westhighland terrier(molly). I also have a security dog coming from Virginia(Duke).

  8. Kevin says:


    I was wondering the same thing (I can’t recall seeing many ads with cats in them).

    Then again, can you imagine if a candidate had a picture of him/herself on a mailer with his/her nine cats?

    Now THAT would be funny. At least they’d get the hoarder vote.


    Cats were included in the study but were not statistically significant where dogs were.

  9. Plain Language says:

    Owning a dog only proves you have turds on your patio and hair on your sofa. It makes you no better or worse a person. Or any more or less fit to be a public leader. This entire subject is asinine and Kane’s study proves only one thing. Most people are idiots.