The impact of party leaders' traits in elections

Amanda Bittner

in Platform or Personality?

Published in print May 2011 | ISBN: 9780199595365
Published online May 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780191725593 | DOI:

Series: Comparative Politics

The impact of party leaders' traits in elections

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This chapter explores one of the most important questions that can be asked about the role of party leaders in elections: do evaluations of party leaders affect vote choice and the outcomes of elections? The impact of perceptions of leaders' traits is assessed in relation to the calculations and decision processes of voters across elections and the analysis incorporates voters' political sophistication. The chapter then narrows the analysis to look more closely at the impact of leaders in American elections from 1972 to 2004 in order to assess the difference leaders made in election outcomes. The chapter presents the argument that leaders matter in elections: voters' evaluations are very important to individual vote choice. Furthermore, evaluations of leaders' character have a larger impact on vote choice than evaluations of their competence. The net impact of leaders on election outcomes is also noticeable, ranging from no effect in the 1976 election to 10 per cent of the popular vote in 1972. The data suggest that in certain circumstances, leaders can be the factor that decides an election.

Keywords: traits; elections; leaders; vote choice; character; competence; political sophistication; American elections; outcomes; impact

Chapter.  9461 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Comparative Politics

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