Candidate Authenticity: ‘To Thine Own Self Be True’
In recent electoral contests, political observers and media outlets increasingly report on the level of “authenticity” of political candidates. However, even though this term has become commonplace in political commentary, it has received little attention in empirical electoral research. In this study, we identify the characteristics that we argue make a politician “authentic”. After theoretically discussing the different dimensions of this trait, we propose a survey battery aimed at measuring perceptions of the authenticity of political candidates. Testing our measure using data sets from different countries, we show that the answers to our items load on one latent concept that we call “authenticity”. Furthermore, perceptions of candidate authenticity correlate strongly with evaluations of political parties and leaders, and with vote intention, while they are empirically distinguishable from other traits. We conclude that candidate authenticity is an important trait that should be taken into account by future research.
KeywordsAuthenticity Candidate traits Political candidates Elections
This study benefitted from the generous support of many people and institutions. The idea for this project originated in the 2017 edition of the Leuven-Montréal Winter School on Elections at KU Leuven which was attended by all authors. We thank Kees Aarts for the initial idea to work on this topic. We thank Roger Awan-Scully, Rune Stubager, Marc Hooghe, and Jordi Muñoz, for kindly agreeing to include our questions in their surveys. We presented this project at several occasions, including the MPSA annual conference (2018), the APSA annual meeting and exhibition (2018, 2019), and the ISPP annual meeting (2019). We thank all participants for their suggestions and feedback, and are specially grateful to Mary Stegmaier, Itumeleng Makgetla, Lasse Laustsen, Quinn Albaugh, and Ruth Dassonneville. We also thank the editors and three anonymous reviewers of the journal for their very valuable feedback. For research funding, we acknowledge the support of the Canada Research Chair in Electoral Democracy. Stiers acknowledges the financial support of the Research Foundation Flanders. Breitenstein acknowledges the support through an FPI Grant (BES-2015-072756) from the Spanish Ministry of Economy and Competitivity and the European Social Fund, and the Projects “Political Change in Spain: Populism, Feminism and new dimensions of conflict” (CSO2017-83086-R) and “LIMCOR: Limits to political corruption” (Fundació La Caixa 2016 ACUPO177).
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