Nice guys finish last: personality and political success

Abstract

Is there a link between personality and the electoral and in-office success of politicians? Using the Ten-Item Personality Inventory, we examine whether the Five-Factor Model personality traits are correlated with political success among Belgian elected officials. We look at three different measures of political success, corresponding to different stages of the political career—electoral success, years in office, and access to an elite political position—and find lower levels of agreeableness are systematically correlated with greater success. These results are in line with those found among American and European CEO’s (Boudreau et al. in J Vocat Behav 58(1):53–81, 2001). This study offers a unique insight in the type of personality voters and party leadership look for and reward among politicians.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Election results for each Parliament and constituency can be found here:

    http://www.vlaanderenkiest.be/verkiezingen2014/#/parlement/R02000/uitslagen,

    http://bru2014.irisnet.be/web5Site/nl/index.html,

    http://bru2014.irisnet.be/web5Site/nl/cha/results/results_start.html,

    http://elections.fgov.be/index.php?id=3265&L=1,

    http://elections.fgov.be/index.php?id=3266&L=1,

    http://elections.fgov.be/index.php?id=3273&L=1.

  2. 2.

    Preference vote = individual number of preference votes/total votes of the party in that district * 100.

  3. 3.

    It is worth noting that both our sample generally, and our sample of elites versus non-elites, are not biased in terms of political ideology. For instance, using the most recent Chapel Hill Expert Survey (CHES) data (Bakker et al. 2015; Polk et al. 2017), we observe that the average ideological left–right position for elites is 5.4 and 5.6 for non-elites—0 corresponds to the most left and 10 to the most right wing party. The CHES data include local expert assessments on the ideological left (0)–right (10) position for each political party in a given country.

  4. 4.

    Since 2002, electoral lists at the federal and regional levels are required to present an equal number of men and women.

  5. 5.

    We also tested for interaction effects between personality and the covariates. We tested this by running models in which each personality trait was interacted (separately) with either sex or age (in the models that control for demographics). In no instance was the interaction statistically significant.

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Correspondence to Jeroen Joly.

Appendix: Ten-Item Personality Inventory (TIPI)

Appendix: Ten-Item Personality Inventory (TIPI)

The next battery of questions is designed to assess certain aspects of your personality. These questions have been used extensively in a wide variety of international studies. We would like to ask you to score a number of these traits for which there is, of course no right or wrong answer. They may seem contradictory, but this is how the battery has been used successfully in prior research. This is important for us, as we would like to know if, for example, extravert representatives have different information processing styles or other views on how to represent citizens. It is important to note that your answers are anonymous and will never be used in a way that can identify you. We list a number of personality traits that may or may not apply to you.  Can you indicate to which extent you agree or disagree with each statement. You should rate the extent to which a pair of traits applies to you, even if one characteristic applies more strongly than the other. I see myself as:

Disagree stronglyDisagree moderatelyDisagree a littleNeither agree nor disagreeAgree a littleAgree moderatelyAgree strongly
1234567
  1. 1. Extraverted, enthusiastic
  2. 2. Critical, quarrelsome
  3. 3. Dependable, self-disciplined
  4. 4. Anxious, easily upset
  5. 5. Open to new experiences, complex
  6. 6. Reserved, quiet
  7. 7. Sympathetic, warm
  8. 8. Disorganized, careless
  9. 9. Calm, emotionally stable
  10. 10. Conventional, uncreative

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Joly, J., Soroka, S. & Loewen, P. Nice guys finish last: personality and political success. Acta Polit 54, 667–683 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1057/s41269-018-0095-z

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Keywords

  • Elites
  • Political careers
  • Personality
  • Elections