Politics, media and the electoral role of party leaders

Authored by: Anthony Mughan , Loes Aaldering

The Routledge Handbook of Elections, Voting Behaviorand Public Opinion

Print publication date:  September  2017
Online publication date:  September  2017

Print ISBN: 9781138890404
eBook ISBN: 9781315712390
Adobe ISBN:


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The leaders of political parties are seen as key figures in the democratic political process as they take primary responsibility for organizing their parties’ efforts to win elections and, if victorious, for governing the people and the country they have been chosen to serve. Interestingly, however, the conventional wisdom has been that, with the exception of presidential candidates in the US, these same key political figures exert very little influence on election outcomes given their limited impact on individuals’ vote choice. Essentially indistinguishable in the eyes of voters from the party they represented, party leaders failed to influence the vote independently of the strong, social cleavage-based partisan loyalties that were the norm for much of the post-1945 period. Put differently, party leaders in parliamentary systems of government were dismissed as at best bit players in the larger election drama (Butler and Stokes 1969). More recently, however, perceptions have changed dramatically and the study of the electoral effects of party leaders is a growth area in the study of democratic mass political behavior (Bean and Mughan 1989; Aarts, Blais and Schmitt 2011; Bittner 2011).

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