Leaders' Personalities and the Outcomes of Democratic Elections

By Anthony King | Go to book overview

4 Candidate Evaluations and Presidential Electoral Choices in France

Roy Pierce

France, where the president is directly elected by the voters, is a particularly interesting and challenging site for an examination of the effects of leadership qualities and personal attributes on electoral outcomes.

The origins and nature of the French presidency, as well as the way in which the president is elected, would appear to enhance the potential importance of leadership attributes in presidential selection. Like the U.S. presidency in 1789, the French presidency was established constitutionally in 1958 by people who sought energy (read “leadership”) in the executive and who were secure in the knowledge of who the first person to hold the office would be. The U.S. constitutional convention tailored the presidency to fit George Washington; the drafters of the Constitution of the Fifth French Republic tailored the presidency to fit Charles de Gaulle. Neither the United States in 1789 nor France in 1958 chose the president by universal suffrage, but their first incumbencies were virtually assigned in advance to particular persons because they had been victorious generals with remarkable gifts of political leadership.

Beginning with the presidential election of 1965, France proceeded to select its president by direct, universal suffrage. The electoral system employed, which we will describe in more detail below, is candidate-centered in ways that create multiple opportunities for aspirants to the office to try to exploit whatever leadership attributes they may possess.

At the same time, despite the comparative rarity of French presidential elections (there were only six during the thirty-year span between 1965 and 1995), there has been considerable variation in the extent to which the candidates' leadership attributes might have contributed to the voters' choices and affected the electoral outcomes. 1 And during that same period, there has been

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