Personality and Ideological Positions of Political Candidates

Dr. Kathrin Ackermann
Dr. Pirmin Bundi

Over the past ten years, the relationship between personality and political attitudes and behavior of citizens has received a lot of attention in political science research. Large-scale quantitative analyses have shown how individual differences in personality relate to different kinds of attitudes, different forms of political participation and voting behavior. While this research has increased our understanding of the psychological underpinnings of citizens’ opinion and behavioral patterns, we know much less about the psychology of those who shall represent the people in democratic systems: the political elites. This is not due to a lack of interest in the psychology of elites but mainly to the non-availability of large-scale data sets on political elites. The candidate survey of the German Longitudinal Election Study (GLES) 2013 is one of the few data sets that captures the psychological dispositions of political elites using the Five Factor Model (“Big Five”). We make use of this unique data source to better understand how psychological dispositions drive the ideological positions of political elites. We test whether personality traits are related to ideological positions in the same manner for elites as for citizens. Furthermore, we can assess whether certain traits drive non-conformity with party positions by comparing the self-reported issue positions of candidates and parties. Our paper will contribute to a better understanding of the psychological foundations of political elites’ attitudes and behavior. It will complement the long standing tradition of qualitative work on the personality of political leaders and elites.