Scholars pay increasing attention to the personality of candidates. However, systematic and comparative data across different countries and electoral systems are virtually inexistent. I introduce here a new dataset with information about the personality of 124 candidates having competed 57 elections worldwide. I describe the candidates’ personality in terms of two sets of traits which provide a comprehensive representation of adult personality: the “socially desirable” traits of extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, emotional stability, and openness (“Big Five”), and the “socially malevolent” traits of narcissism, psychopathy, and Machiavellianism (“Dark Triad”). Beyond introducing these measures, and testing their validity and reliability, I present three sets of analyses suggesting that these variables are also relevant. My findings suggest several trends: (1) concerning the profile of candidates, populists score significantly lower in agreeableness, conscientiousness, and emotional stability, but higher in perceived extraversion, narcissism, and psychopathy than “mainstream” candidates; (2) looking at the content of their campaigns, candidates high in agreeableness and openness tend to be associated with campaigns that are less negative and harsh, but more based on positively valenced appeals. At the same time, extroverted tend to be associated more with character attacks. Finally, (3) looking at electoral success, high conscientiousness and openness seem associated with better results during the election, whereas extraversion could be counterproductive.
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I replicated all analyses presented in this article with a more restrictive condition (minimum five independent experts per candidate); results, available upon request, are very similar.
α = 0.74 (extraversion), α = 0.66 (agreeableness), α = 0.78 (conscientiousness), α = 0.84 (emotional stability), α = 0.63 (openness), α = 0.86 (narcissism), α = 0.89 (psychopathy), α = 0.78 (Machiavellianism).
To identify populist candidates, I referred to existing comparative work (e.g., Mudde 2007), systematic collections of case studies (e.g., Albertazzi and McDonnell 2008), and single case studies. I provide more details in Nai (2018a). Table A2 in appendix marks the candidates identified as populists with ** in front of their name.
Percentage of votes won by candidates (or their party, if legislative election); all models control for the effective number of candidates to exclude spuriousness. I replicated the analyses for two alternative measures (relative success and difference with average score), with very similar results. I discuss more details about this issue in Nai (2018c). See full results in Appendix D.
In a study of Belgian elected officials, Joly et al. (2018) find that low agreeableness is consistently associated with electoral success, which echoes my trends found for psychopathic traits.
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I am very grateful to the anonymous reviewers and the journal editors for their constructive comments and suggestions; any remaining mistakes are my responsibility alone. I acknowledge financial support from the Swiss National Science Foundation (Grant ref P300P1_161163) and the material support provided by the Electoral Integrity Project (Harvard and University of Sydney), with special thanks to Pippa Norris for her input.
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Nai, A. Disagreeable narcissists, extroverted psychopaths, and elections: a new dataset to measure the personality of candidates worldwide. Eur Polit Sci 18, 309–334 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1057/s41304-018-0187-2
- Big Five
- Dark Triad
- Expert survey