David Holian and Charles Prysby

Voter perceptions of the personal traits of presidential candidates are widely regarded to be important influences on the vote. Media pundits frequently explain the outcome of presidential elections in terms of the personal appeal of the candidates. Despite the emphasis on presidential character traits in the media, the scholarly investigation in this area is limited.  In this book, Professors Holian and Prysby set out to examine the effect that trait perceptions have on the vote, how these perceptions are shaped by other attitudes and evaluations, what types of voters are most likely to cast a ballot on the basis of the character traits, and how varying patterns of media consumption influence voters’ reliance on their perceptions of the character traits of the presidential candidates. The authors examine presidential elections from 1980 to 2012 and find that traits do have a very substantial effect on the vote, that different candidates have advantages on different traits, and that the opinions expressed by media pundits about how the candidates are viewed by the voters are often simplistic, and sometimes flat out wrong.

“Candidate Character Traits in Presidential Elections is an extraordinary analysis that contributes a new level of understanding to an area much discussed but relatively neglected by social scientists. The personal qualities and character perceptions of presidential candidates are assumed to affect voter decision-making. Precisely how and of what degree of importance compared to other influences has been a murky area for interpretation. This is no longer the case. Holian and Prysby assess how such qualities impact the vote; what shapes and influences the development of such perceptions; and the types of voters most likely to perceive individual personalities as determinants of their votes. They do it with style and an in-depth familiarity with their subjects that in itself provides a good read. This is an exceptionally sophisticated study, one that fills a major void in our analysis of voting behavior. It should be required reading for all students of elections and the forces that serve to shape the outcomes.”  —William Crotty, Thomas P. O’Neill Chair in Public Life and Professor of Political Science at Northeastern University.