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Disentangling Leaders from their Parties in Public Opinion

Bridgewater, Jack (2021) Disentangling Leaders from their Parties in Public Opinion. Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) thesis, University of Kent,. (doi:10.22024/UniKent/01.02.89566) (KAR id:89566)


To what extent do views towards a political party inform evaluations of that party's leader? A substantial body of literature analyses the effects of both leaders and their parties in the electoral process, largely focusing on vote choice. While there are an increasing number of scholars who posit that we have underestimated the impact of leaders during elections, there is still surprisingly little research conducted on the process through which voters make up their minds about leaders. This process is important, because understanding it can further clarify the role that leaders play in people's political attitudes relative to parties. If voters' attitudes towards leaders and parties are substantially different then some of the assumptions that we make about public opinion are inaccurate. Furthermore, it has ramifications for the extent to which we should regard actions by individual leaders as having importance for public opinion. If voters do not frequently distinguish between party and leader then it is likely that the increasingly sizeable role leaders play in media coverage is unfounded. This thesis addresses public opinion towards leaders across three distinct but related papers. Firstly, given the decline of party identity in many democracies I show that there has been change over time in the way voters evaluate leaders. Secondly, drawing on recent research, I suggest that the way in which voters think about leaders is affected by whether a leader is new in the role or not. Finally, I utilise voter assessments of personality traits to provide evidence of the importance of leaders being perceived as warm rather than competent. These findings have implications for future research on the role of leaders in electoral politics and for how parties should understand the relevance of the appeal of their leaders to the public.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctor of Philosophy (PhD))
Thesis advisor: Grundig, Frank
DOI/Identification number: 10.22024/UniKent/01.02.89566
Uncontrolled keywords: Party Leaders Public Opinion Partisanship Personalisation Dealignment
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Human and Social Sciences > School of Politics and International Relations
SWORD Depositor: System Moodle
Depositing User: System Moodle
Date Deposited: 02 Aug 2021 12:10 UTC
Last Modified: 13 Dec 2022 19:46 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

University of Kent Author Information

Bridgewater, Jack.

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