Sour Grapes and Sweet Lemons: The Rationalization of Anticipated Electoral Outcomes

By Aaron C. KayMaria C. Jimenez John T. Jost
2001| Working Paper No. 1680

According to McGuire and McGuire’s (1991) “rationalization postulate,” people should adjust their judgments of the desirability of a future event to make them congruent with its perceived likelihood. In a political survey administered to 288 Democrats, Republicans, and nonpartisans immediately prior to the Bush-Gore presidential election, we manipulated the perceived likelihood that one or the other candidate would win and measured the subjective desirability of each outcome. Providing evidence for the “sour grapes” and “sweet lemon” types of rationalizations, we found that Democrats and Republicans rated preferred and non-preferred candidates to be more desirable as their perceived chances of winning increased (and less desirable as their perceived chances of winning decreased). These rationalization effects were found to depend upon a high level of motivational involvement, so that nonpartisans showed no evidence of a linear relation between perceived likelihood and assessed desirability.