The Impact of Candidate Traits in American Presidential Elections
The aim of this chapter is to provide a systematic test of the conventional wisdom that personality is key in contemporary American electoral politics. Using survey data from the six most recent presidential elections, the contours are examines of the candidates’ images (traits), the bases of those images in voters’ more fundamental political predispositions, and the impact of voters’ assessments of the candidates’ personal qualities on individual voting behaviour and on aggregate election outcomes. In stark contrast with the popular conception of contemporary electoral politics as candidate–centred and image–driven, it is argued that candidates’ images are largely epiphenomenal and have only a modest impact on election outcomes. This conclusion is underlined by the analysis given of the 2000 (Bush vs. Gore) presidential election, in which the estimated impact of voters’ assessments of the candidates’ personalities was even smaller than in the previous five elections considered here, although quite probably large enough to be decisive in an election decided by a few hundred votes in a single state.
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