Leaders' Personalities and the Outcomes of Democratic Elections

By Anthony King | Go to book overview
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8 Conclusions and Implications

Anthony King

It is time to remind the reader what this book has—and has not—been about. It has not been about political leadership in general or about the relationship between political leadership and individual political leaders' personalities. In particular, it has not been about the electoral impact that party leaders and presidential candidates may well have as a result of their impact on their parties or governments. It has therefore had little to say about such phenomena as François Mitterrand's success in establishing the Socialists as the dominant party on the French left in the 1970s, or about Margaret Thatcher's ideological reorientation of the British Conservative Party in the 1980s, or about Bill Clinton's impact on the Democratic Party in the United States in the 1990s. All of these developments were of crucial significance. All made possible electoral outcomes that would almost certainly otherwise not have occurred. All owed much to the personalities of the three individuals referred to. But they are not what this book has been about.

Rather, our focus has been on the impact that leaders' personalities and other personal traits may have from time to time, not on their parties or governments but on individual voters' willingness to vote for them and consequently on the outcomes of the elections that they contest. The line of argument usually runs: (1) voters have likes and dislikes of leaders and candidates; (2) on the basis of those likes and dislikes, voters form overall evaluations of leaders and candidates; (3) voters' overall evaluations of leaders and candidates have a considerable bearing—perhaps a decisive bearing—on how they actually vote. The line of argument then usually continues: (4) because voters' overall evaluations of leaders and candidates have a considerable bearing on the votes of individuals, they also, therefore, often have a bearing on the outcomes of whole elections.

It should be obvious that no one disputes the truth of proposition (1). Most voters, of course, have likes and dislikes of the leaders and candidates whom the main political parties present them with. To be sure, a very few eligible voters are completely closed off from the entire political process and scarcely know the names of their national leaders, let alone have strong (or even weak)

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