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Voters’ evaluations of prime ministerial candidates : the impact of leader traits in the 2000 Canadian federal election Nakai, Emily

Abstract

This study examines the impact of perceived personality traits of the political party leaders on voting decisions in the 2000 Canadian federal election, replicating Richard Johnston's research that is based on the 1997 election. Employing data from the 2000 Canadian Election Study (CES), the research uses Ordinary Least Squares regression analysis to estimate how evaluations of leader personality traits over two aggregated dimensions - competence and character - moved votes. The changes in the design of the 2000 CES from prior years created many difficulties in assessing voters' evaluations of the party leaders and limited the comparability of the results from the study. The key methodological differences are: (1) leaders were not evaluated individually; (2) it did not measure the degree of applicability of the trait labels; (3) it included significantly fewer leader personality questions, and (4) the "new ideas" variable does not fall squarely into either the competence and character domains and seems to favour the new Alliance Party leader. This study finds that leader effects are more critical to the parties struggling for their political survival. A counterfactual party leader-switching exercise suggests that the distance between the frontrunner parties and the others was too great for leader-switching effects to make a difference in determining which parties would form the government and the Official Opposition and whether the winning party would form a majority or minority government. Joe Clark improved his party's standing during the campaign and helped it to retain its official party status while evaluations of Stockwell Day declined. The relevance of judgements of Day and Clark on pre-election vote intentions moved in the same direction as voters' respective evaluations of the leaders over the campaign. This study confirms that campaigns can have an effect on voters. The study supports earlier research findings that suggests that Canadian elections are vulnerable to leader effects. Conventional wisdom that is driven by the media's focus on the personalities suggests that leaders are significant factors in Canadian federal elections, but the empirical research reported in this study and others before it suggest otherwise.

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