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Nice Guys Finish Last: Personality and Political Success.



Is there a link between personality and the electoral and in-office success of politicians? Using the Ten-Item Personality Inventory, we examine whether the Five-Factor Model personality traits are correlated with political success among Belgian elected officials. We look at three different measures of political success, corresponding to different stages of the political career—electoral success, years in office, and access to an elite political position—and find lower levels of agreeableness are systematically correlated with greater success. These results are in line with those found among American and European CEO’s (Boudreau et al. in J Vocat Behav 58(1):53–81, 2001). This study offers a unique insight in the type of personality voters and party leadership look for and reward among politicians.
Acta Polit
Nice guys finish last: personality andpolitical success
JeroenJoly1· StuartSoroka2· PeterLoewen3
© Macmillan Publishers Ltd., part of Springer Nature 2018
Abstract Is there a link between personality and the electoral and in-office suc-
cess of politicians? Using the Ten-Item Personality Inventory, we examine whether
the Five-Factor Model personality traits are correlated with political success among
Belgian elected officials. We look at three different measures of political success,
corresponding to different stages of the political career—electoral success, years
in office, and access to an elite political position—and find lower levels of agreea-
bleness are systematically correlated with greater success. These results are in line
with those found among American and European CEO’s (Boudreau etal. in J Vocat
Behav 58(1):53–81, 2001). This study offers a unique insight in the type of person-
ality voters and party leadership look for and reward among politicians.
Keywords Elites· Political careers· Personality· Elections
Politicians are central to politics. They are key players in public deliberation of pol-
icy issues, and in policymaking itself. It is not surprising, then, that there has been
a long-standing interest in the characteristics of politicians. Much work has focused
on the demographic characteristics of politicians, with an interest in “descriptive”
* Jeroen Joly
1 Department ofPolitical Science, Ghent University, Universiteitstraat 8, 9000Ghent, Belgium
2 Department ofCommunication Studies andtheInstitute forSocial Research, University
ofMichigan, 105 South State Street, AnnArbor, MI, USA
3 Munk School ofGlobal Affairs andPublic Policy, University ofToronto, 14 Queen’s Park
Cres. West, Toronto, ONM5S3K9, Canada
J.Joly et al.
representation (see, e.g., Mansbridge 1999; Pitkin 1967). Another body of literature
has been concerned with the psychological and decision-making characteristics of
politicians (see, e.g., DiRenzo 1967; Levy 2013; Sheffer etal. 2018). We seek to add
to the latter literature below, through an exploration of the “personality” of elected
politicians in Belgium.
Feist and Feist (2009, p. 10) define personality as “a pattern of relatively perma-
nent traits and unique characteristics that give both consistency and individuality
to a person’s behavior.” Traits help explain individual differences between people,
consistency in behavior over time, and across different situations (Feist and Feist
2009, p. 10). Despite important differences among modern theories and perspectives
on personality, most would agree that personality has a biological and genetic base,
that individual tendencies are further shaped by a myriad of experiences and envi-
ronmental factors, and that the resulting behavioral, cognitive, and emotional pat-
terns constitute personality (Cloninger 2009, p. 5). Thus, in as far as each individual
is unique, personality provides us with a conceptual framework by which we can
describe differences, as well as commonalities among individuals. The Five-Factor
Model (FFM), on which this study relies, is claimed by McCrae and Costa (2005,
p. vii) as the most important advance in the field of modern personality psychology.
The role of personality in career success and development is a question of central
attention from scholars of management and organizational psychology. The same
is not true of scholars’ focus on political success, however. The personality traits
correlated with successful political careers have received relatively little scholarly
attention. This is surely due in part to the inaccessibility of politicians. Traditional
personality tests often involve relatively lengthy questionnaires, asking personal,
sometimes even intimate, questions. Politicians are difficult to reach in the first place
and probably reluctant to answer personal questions in the second.
We argue that this is nevertheless an important line of inquiry. Indeed, political
scientists have in recent years exhibited a renewed interest in the role of personality
in guiding the behavior of citizens. We argue that this interest should extend to the
elites who represent them. In particular, we are focused on understanding how vari-
ation in personality traits is related to the success of elected officials. The results we
present are correlational rather than causal, but they do give us a sense for the per-
sonality traits of elected officials, and that in turn allows us to consider how person-
ality traits might matter for the nature and quality of representation and governance.
Personality traits may be correlated with differences in information processing and
decision-making, for instance. At the same time, personality traits may reflect the
characteristics that voters are most likely to reward. Given that past work suggests
that others’ judgments of personality traits covary with self-assessments (Gosling
etal. 2003), exploring the personality characteristics of successful politicians may
also help us understand both the characteristics rewarded by political parties on the
one hand, and voters on the other.
Using the Ten-Item Personality Inventory (TIPI), administered to a large num-
ber of politicians elected to four Belgian parliaments, this study estimates the links
between the “Big Five” personality traits and several indicators of political suc-
cess, corresponding to different stages of a politician’s career, including but also
beyond election to office. We first explore correlations between personality traits and
Nice guys finish last: personality andpolitical success
candidates’ electoral success, in terms of vote share, compared to others on their
party’s electoral list. We then examine links between personality traits and politi-
cians’ longevity in parliament, through their number of years in office. Finally, we
examine whether there are traits differentiating regular politicians from those who
are or have been among the top political elite, like members of the executive, Presi-
dents of a parliamentary Chamber or party leaders.
Results point to the particular importance of agreeableness, which is negatively
correlated with vote share, longevity, and elite status. Some other traits appear to
matter as well, but less consistently. There clearly are advantages of being hard-
headed and competitive in politics. It is, after all, a competitive, contentious, and
largely zero-sum field. It is notable that our findings are in line with work on Ameri-
can and European executives (Boudreau etal. 2001); although whether our objec-
tives for political leadership should be the same as our objectives for business lead-
ership is another issue.
Our paper proceeds as follows. We first briefly describe the “Big Five” person-
ality traits. We then review the existing literature on personality and professional
success. We then turn to a description and analysis of our data. We conclude with a
discussion of our results.
The Five‑Factor Model andpolitical success
The interest in the relationship between personality and success is not new. A major
obstacle in this line of studies is the limited access to political leaders’ personality.
To circumvent this problem, Rubenzer et al. (2000) used external expert raters—
mainly biographers—to assess the personalities of all US presidents. They found
US presidents to be, on average, more extraverted, less open, and less agreeable than
the general population. Among Presidents, the personality trait most associated with
presidential success is Openness to experience (Rubenzer etal. 2000). Building on
this rich dataset, further research found a range of indicators of presidential suc-
cess to be associated with specific personal characteristics, like grandiose narcissism
(Watts etal. 2013) and fearless dominance (Lilienfeld etal. 2012). These studies
provide useful insights in how American leaders distinguish themselves from the
overall population and which personality aspects distinguish successful from regular
presidents. They are, however, hard to transpose to a non-American context, particu-
larly in coalition countries where different styles of representation apply and where
political success can be contingent upon different aspects.
The FFM, commonly known as the Big Five, regroups individual traits, used to
describe personal differences in emotional, interpersonal, experiential, attitudinal,
and motivational styles, into five basic dimensions of personality: openness, consci-
entiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism (McCrae and John 1992).
In the 1980s, the notion started gaining ground that these five factors were the basic
dimensions of personality, based on decades of lexical analysis using natural lan-
guage adjectives and theoretically based personality questionnaires. Put simply,
development of the Big Five involved the factoring or grouping of words, mainly
adjectives, which people use to describe themselves or others. These descriptors
J.Joly et al.
include words and concepts like ‘sociable,’ ‘active,’ ‘positive,’ ‘dominant,’ and many
others. When asked to choose from a list of descriptors, not all of which are posi-
tive (including such adjectives as ‘fearful,’ ‘anxious,’ and ‘vulnerable,’ for example),
subjects’ choices were found to cluster into five core groups (Raggatt 2006).
These five dimensions have been identified relatively consistently among indi-
viduals of all ages and genders, and across different cultures and languages (McCrae
and Costa 1997). A large body of research suggests that this personality trait struc-
ture is universal, hereditary (Jang etal. 1996), and stable across individuals’ lifespan
(Ferguson 2010; Löckenhoff etal. 2008; Terracciano etal. 2010), with only minor
changes potentially occurring in early adulthood (McCrae etal. 1999; Roberts etal.
2001; Specht etal. 2011). Over the last decades, the FFM has become one of the
most widely explored, prominent frameworks used to assess individuals’ personality.
Briefly, the FFM comprises five traits. Following McCrae and John (1992), those
who are low on extraversion may be regarded as reserved and serious. They pre-
fer time alone or with a small number of other people. Those who are high on the
trait are conceptualized as active and outgoing, preferring to spend time around
people. Agreeableness is characterized as being compassionate, cooperative, and
good-natured, while those who are low on this trait may be regarded as competitive,
hard-headed, skeptical, and proud. Conscientiousness is characterized by depend-
ability and self-discipline. Conversely, those low on this trait are characterized as
easy-going and careless. Emotional stability implies being relaxed under stressful
conditions, while those who are not emotionally stable (i.e., neurotic) are conceived
as sensitive, emotional, and prone to being upset. Finally, openness is manifest in
having broad interests and being imaginative, while those who are low on openness
are thought to be traditional, down to earth, and practical.
Our interest in the relationship between the FFM and the success of political rep-
resentatives is fueled by two literature studies. First, there is a literature suggesting
that, as a stable set of personal dispositions, personality has been found to shape our
(political) attitudes and values, beliefs and behavior. Higher levels of openness and
agreeableness are generally associated with left-leaning ideology, and higher lev-
els of conscientiousness and extraversion are commonly found among center-right
individuals, not only for voters (Barbaranelli etal. 2007; Caprara etal. 1999, 2006;
Carney etal. 2008; Vecchione etal. 2011), but among politicians as well (Caprara
etal. 2003, 2010; Dietrich etal. 2012;Joly etal. 2018).
Extraverted individuals have also been found to display higher levels of politi-
cal self-efficacy (Cooper etal. 2013) which, in turn, affects political participation
(Vecchione and Caprara 2009). Furthermore, personality traits have also been found
to influence people’s political knowledge (Rasmussen 2015), their ability to vote
correctly (Ha and Lau 2015)—i.e., to match one’s vote with one’s preferences and
convictions—, and even the political information that they consume (Gerber etal.
2011). In sum, there is ample evidence that personality influences a wide range of
political attitudes and behavior.
Second, there is a related literature on the FFM and career success. Judge and
Kammeyer-Mueller (2007) offer a review of the field, and an especially useful model
of the relationship between personality and career success. The general thrust is that
personality affects all stages of one’s career, from job selection, to job performance,
Nice guys finish last: personality andpolitical success
to workplace social interactions. The end result is that salary and promotions are
correlated with personality traits. The same factors should apply to successful polit-
ical careers. It takes certain personal predispositions to engage in politics, or to be
approached by political parties, or affiliated organizations, like labor unions. Similarly,
politicians differ in the way they behave socially and establish relationships and net-
works with influential leadership, both within and outside their own party, as well as
with members, volunteers, staffers, and other potential voters. Finally, these disposi-
tions lead certain politicians to be more efficient in passing or amending legislation or
in brokering deals and compromise between different factions or with other politicians.
It is worth noting that we focus here on one subset of extrinsic factors related
to career success. The literature on career success has distinguished between meas-
ures of extrinsic success, i.e., salary and promotion, and measures of intrinsic suc-
cess, i.e., how an individual rates their own success. These two dimensions are only
slightly correlated (Judge etal. 1999) and are determined by different features (for
an overview see Judge and Kammeyer-Mueller 2007). We regard extrinsic success
as more critical here—we care about how personality traits are related to who gets
and stays in office, after all. We note only that measures of intrinsic success capture
a rather different phenomenon, and perhaps one worthy of study elsewhere.
Given the lack of previous work on the link between Big Five personality traits and
political success, we rely here on work on career success, particularly (but not exclu-
sively) in work focused on elite corporate executives (esp. Boudreau etal. 2001). The
literature suggests that one relatively consistent predictor of success is extraversion.
Extraversion is typically associated with positive moods, more energy and enthusi-
asm, and more rewarding interpersonal experiences (Judge and Kammeyer-Mueller
2007), and a wide range of studies find higher levels of extraversion to predict higher
salary and promotion (Ng etal. 2005; Rode etal. 2008; Seibert and Kraimer 2001;
Sutin etal. 2009). In their study among 1885 American and 1871 European execu-
tives—particularly relevant to our own study given their high functioning elite sub-
jects—Boudreau etal. (2001) find extraversion to be positively related to both salary
and promotion, albeit only among European (but not American) executives.
Similarly, lower levels of neuroticism (or higher levels of emotional stability)
have been found to positively predict career success (Gelissen and de Graaf 2006;
Judge etal. 1999; Ng etal. 2005; Sutin etal. 2009). Characteristics like emotional
instability and anxiety are likely to affect job performance, as well as interpersonal
interactions, hindering one’s career evolution. Among executives, Boudreau et al.
(2001) find emotional stability to influence success among American participants
for both salary and promotion.
Some studies suggest no significant relationship between agreeableness and
extrinsic career success (Gelissen and de Graaf 2006; Judge etal. 1999; Sutin etal.
2009); some suggest correlations for certain occupations only (Seibert and Kraimer
2001); and some find agreeableness to be negatively related to salary and promo-
tion (Boudreau et al. 2001; Bozionelos 2004; Ng et al. 2005; Rode et al. 2008).
J.Joly et al.
Intuitively, agreeableness might seem like a quality that would improve interper-
sonal interactions and how someone is perceived on the work floor. Ng etal. (2005),
however, argue that more agreeable individuals might be perceived as more “doc-
ile and easily manipulated” and, therefore, receive less sponsorship. Boudreau etal.
(2001) find that more agreeable individuals have lower salaries and are less close to
their CEO.
The picture is similarly variable for conscientiousness, which has been positively
associated with professional success in some studies (Judge etal. 1999; Ng et al.
2005; Sutin etal. 2009), and uncorrelated with success in others (Bozionelos 2004;
Rode etal. 2008; Seibert and Kraimer 2001). Among European and American exec-
utives, Boudreau etal. (2001) do not find any relationship between conscientious-
ness and either salary or promotion. They do, however, show that conscientious par-
ticipants in both the European and American samples were more focused on their
There does not seem to be a clear relationship between openness and professional
success. Most studies find no effect (Boudreau etal. 2001; Judge etal. 1999; Rode
etal. 2008; Sutin etal. 2009); others find positive (Bozionelos 2004; Ng etal. 2005)
or negative (Seibert and Kraimer 2001) effects on salary.
Clearly, the effect of personality traits on job success is variable, contingent on
the type of professional activity (Seibert and Kraimer 2001), as well as stage of
career, local culture, and customs (Boudreau etal. 2001), and a range of other indi-
vidual and organizational features. The literature clearly points to the relevance of
extraversion, and perhaps also neuroticism; on other personality traits, it provides
less guidance. Our work is thus exploratory, and as we shall see, the results we offer
do not always fall cleanly in line with the existing literature on corporate success.
This study relies on Belgian interview/survey data gathered during a broader survey
study on political representation and information processing in 2015. At the end of
an extensive 45-min personal interview, once trust and rapport with the interview
subject had been well established, politicians were presented with a short personal-
ity test. A total of 413 national and regional politicians, including party leaders and
members of the executive, were contacted to participate in our study. We were able
to interview a total of 272 (66%) politicians—94 from theFlemish parliament, 31
from the Walloon parliament, 95 from the federal level, and 12 from the Brussels
Regional parliament.
Respondents participated in our survey on a computer that our researchers pro-
vided. They were given the necessary space to answer our questions while safe-
guarding their privacy. In all our communications with potential respondents or their
staff (email, phone conversations personal contacts), we always emphasized the ano-
nymity of our study. During the meetings, interviewers remained at their disposal
for any additional substantial or technical questions. While none of our respondents
refused to participate or showed any reluctance answering this part of the survey, 40
respondents failed or refused to answer all ten of the necessary items. This leaves
Nice guys finish last: personality andpolitical success
us with a sample of 232 fully answered TIPI assessments by politicians at different
stages of their political career.
To measure respondents’ personality traits, we used the TIPI, as shown in
theAppendix. Given the length of traditional personality measures, we required a
short, yet reliable, way to ascertain the five personality traits among politicians with-
out risking major dropout and without the sometimes invasive questions typical to
some personality instruments. Through ten statements, the TIPI assesses respond-
ents’ personality on each of the “Big Five” personality traits (2 questions per trait).
Respondents indicate on a 7-point Likert scale to which degree each statement
applies to them. While this brief measure might be somewhat inferior to personality
tests like the NEO-PI, it has been employed and validated across numerous coun-
tries and different settings (Ehrhart etal. 2009; Gosling etal. 2003). We presented
politicians with the translated adapted Belgian version (Hofmans etal. 2008). The
observed distribution for each trait is displayed in Fig.1.
Measures of political success are not drawn from the survey, but rather from read-
ily available observational data. Our first measure of success captures politicians’
electoral performance: starting with the absolute number of votes each MP received
at the simultaneous federal and regional elections in 2014,1 we generate a measure
of electoral success that can be compared across electoral districts by calculating the
percent vote share of each MP vis-à-vis the total votes their party gained per district.
Given how individual politicians benefit from the overall result of their party, this
measure looks at the individual performance of each politician, controlling for the
party’s electoral success.2 This provides for a better comparison within the same
party and between candidates from different parties. Figure 2 shows the distribu-
tion of politicians’ individual preference votes, expressed as a percentage of their
party’s total votes in their electoral district. The average for politicians in our sample
is 12%.
A second measure of political success captures how good politicians are at keep-
ing their jobs. While some politicians achieve an extraordinary electoral result for a
very brief period of time, others are able to maintain their position in Parliament for
several decades. We therefore use the number of consecutive years in office since an
MP was first elected to ascertain their longevity as a politician. Figure3 shows the
number of years politicians from our sample have been in office. One-third of our
sample was newly elected in the year preceding our interviews; even so, some have
been around much longer, and on average our politicians have been in Parliament for
1 Election results for each Parliament and constituency can be found here:
http://www.vlaan deren kiest .be/verki ezing en201 4/#/parle ment/R0200 0/uitsl agen,
http://bru20 14.irisn ite/nl/index .html,
http://bru20 14.irisn ite/nl/cha/resul ts/resul ts_start .html,
http://elect .php?id=3265&L=1,
http://elect .php?id=3266&L=1,
http://elect .php?id=3273&L=1.
2 Preference vote = individual number of preference votes/total votes of the party in that district*100.
J.Joly et al.
A third measure of political success focuses on representatives’ ability to achieve
elite status. Elected politicians can hold different positions, in parliament or as mem-
bers of the executive. Here, we distinguish between regular MPs and those who
are—or have previously been—party leader, speaker, parliamentary group leader,
minister, or state secretary (junior member of the cabinet). These positions are
0 10 20 30
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
0 5 10 15 20
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
0 10 20 30
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
0 10 20 30 40
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
0 10 20 30
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
Emotional Stability
Fig. 1 Distribution of Big Five scores for Belgian politicians
Nice guys finish last: personality andpolitical success
associated with more formal power and competences or access to the highest ranks
of power, with greater media exposure, and often with higher remuneration—either
directly or through expenses. This gives us a total of 53 individuals (23%) catego-
rized as elites among the total group of 232 politicians. 148 of those politicians were
male, with 84 females.3
0 5 10 15 20 25
0 20 40 60
Fig. 2 Distribution of individual preference votes as part of the total party votes in politician’s electoral
0 10 20 30 40
0 5 10 15 20 25+
Fig. 3 Distribution of politician’syears in office
3 It is worth noting that both our sample generally, and our sample of elites versus non-elites, are not
biased in terms of political ideology. For instance, using the most recent Chapel Hill Expert Survey
(CHES) data (Bakker etal. 2015; Polk etal. 2017), we observe that the average ideological left–right
position for elites is 5.4 and 5.6 for non-elites—0 corresponds to the most left and 10 to the most right
wing party. The CHES data include local expert assessments on the ideological left (0)–right (10) posi-
tion for each political party in a given country.
J.Joly et al.
We explore the relationship between personality traits and each of our three meas-
ures of political success in turn, below.
Preference votes
Table1 displays ordinary least squares (OLS) regression results explaining the per-
centage of votes each politician obtained on their party’s list in their constituency.
The model includes our measure of the Big Five alongside several controls, namely,
list position and age. List position is the place on a party list on which each MP
appears. Lists are determined at the party level, and since parties generally allocate
their parliamentary seats according to list position, the higher one’s position, the
higher the probability of being elected into office. List position reflects the popular-
ity and prominence of MPs, of course; it is thus an important control variable when
considering preference votes. In our sample, the average list position is 3 (SD = 3.8);
and the coefficient makes clear that as one’s position on the list increases (i.e., as
they get lower on the list), the number of preference votes decreases.
Age also matters for political success. This is most likely due to the correlation
between age and experience (age correlates strongly with numbers of years in office,
r = .42, p < .01). And here, we see that age is powerfully correlated with preference
Even with these factors taken into account, results in Table1 suggest that politi-
cians who are less agreeable and more emotionally stable receive more preference
votes. Coefficients are weakly significant and small. Even so, it is important to note
that small effects may have a relatively large impact on the absolute and proportional
number of votes politicians receive. A 1-point decrease on agreeableness makes
an average difference of 1.5 percentage points of the candidate’s total votes within
their district. Scores on agreeableness range from 2.5 to the maximum of 7, with a
mean of 5. The interquartile range on this measure is roughly 4–6 on this measure,
Table 1 OLS regression model
of politicians’ percentage of
preferential votes per party list
and district
Coef. SE p
Extraversion .121 .602 .840
Agreeableness −1.503 .830 .072
Conscientiousness −.068 .705 .923
Emotional stability 1.314 .703 .063
Openness .322 .712 .651
List position −.946 .179 .000
Age .249 .073 .001
Constant 2.505 7.565 .741
Observations 229
Nice guys finish last: personality andpolitical success
and that 2-point shift in agreeableness corresponds to a 3-percentage point shift in
preference votes—a notable shift considering the distribution shown in Fig.2. Con-
versely, a 1-point increase in emotional stability favors the candidate’s votes by 1.3
percentage points. Scores on Emotional stability are more broadly distributed and
range between 1 and 7, with an average of 5.2. Again, moving across the interquar-
tile range is associated with a roughly 3-percentage point shift in preference votes.
Table2 examines whether certain personality traits are associated with longer politi-
cal careers. There can be different reasons for politicians to leave public office, from
failure to get re-elected to a loss of interest or the pursuit of a different professional
challenge. Accounting for politicians’ age, the OLS regression in Table2 shows that
agreeableness also plays a role in the longevity of politicians’ parliamentary career.
In line with the results in Table2, lower levels of agreeableness are associated with
longer parliamentary careers. A 1-point decrease on agreeableness makes an aver-
age difference of 1year in parliamentary experience. Moving across the interquartile
range in this variable is thus associated with a 2-year change in longevity.
Elite status
Finally, we look at the differences in personality between elite politicians, contrast-
ing (former) members of the executive, and regular MPs. Bivariate t tests indicate
that elites display lower scores on agreeableness and higher scores on openness to
experience. On average, our 179 regular politicians have an agreeableness score of
5, whereas the 53 elite politicians have a score of 4.75 (p < .05). Conversely, elites
have an average openness score of 5.5 compared to an average score of 5.1 for reg-
ular MPs (p < .05). Given the binary outcome, Table 3 shows results from a logit
regression model; this confirms that, even controlling for age, politicians with lower
scores on agreeableness are more likely to have made it to an executive position
or some position of political leadership (currently or previously). Openness has not
Table 2 OLS regression model
of politicians’ longevity in
Parliament (years in office)
Coef. SE p
Extraversion −.397 .361 .272
Agreeableness −1.068 .493 .031
Conscientiousness .014 .423 .974
Emotional stability .164 .415 .693
Openness .647 .428 .132
Age .292 .043 .000
Constant −3.159 4.534 .487
Observations 232
J.Joly et al.
been significant in previous models, but it does seem to matter here: ceteris paribus,
higher levels of openness are associated with a greater likelihood of elite status.
Finally, Table 4 displays the results including a number of demographics, like
age, gender, and education. As mentioned above, age is the only demographic varia-
ble that systematically affects our three measures of success. Gender and education,
however, do affect elite status; while higher level of education increases the likeli-
hood of an elite position, now or in the past, women have a lower chance of attaining
an elite position. This is not the case in our two other measures of success, due, in
part to the high gender quotas4 imposed on party lists.5
Looking at the personalities of Belgian politicians, we find correlations between
personality traits and measures of political success. There is some variation across
measures of success—openness seems to matter for elite status, and emotional sta-
bility shows a correlation with preference votes, for instance. But there is one con-
sistent finding across all measures of success: agreeableness matters. This is not
to say that more agreeable politicians fare well; indeed, the opposite is true. Less
agreeable politicians receive more preference votes, have longer political careers,
and are more likely to achieve elite status.
This result is very similar to findings for extrinsic success in general, and par-
ticularly among CEO’s in the US and Europe (Boudreau et al. 2001). We can
only speculate on the causal mechanisms driving this effect, of course. It may
be that (Belgian) voters reward candidates who have remained true to their con-
victions and have not conceded too much, to their own party or to other parties
Table 3 Logit regression model
of politicians’ (former) elite
political status
Coef. SE p
Extraversion .155 .154 .313
Agreeableness −.348 .195 .074
Conscientiousness −.131 .173 .450
Emotional stability .022 .169 .895
Openness .398 .175 .023
Age .068 .019 .000
Constant −5.041 1.924 .009
Observations 232 232
Pseudo R2.100 .100
4 Since 2002, electoral lists at the federal and regional levels are required to present an equal number of
men and women.
5 We also tested for interaction effects between personality and the covariates. We tested this by running
models in which each personality trait was interacted (separately) with either sex or age (in the models
that control for demographics). In no instance was the interaction statistically significant.
Nice guys finish last: personality andpolitical success
and stakeholders. Perhaps politicians with lower levels of agreeableness are less
likely to sacrifice or compromise their own careers for the greater benefit of the
party, and this has electoral advantages. In line with Ng etal. (2005), we suspect
that politicians with higher levels of agreeableness may be rated by their peers
and superiors as being docile and more easily manipulated. This may not be what
party leadership tends to look for when they select candidates for the executive
or for other high profile political positions. In executive positions, Ministers and
State Secretaries also act as party delegates who need to guarantee policies stay
within the confines of the government agreement. Additionally, agreeable indi-
viduals might more easily put others or their party before their own interests, and
might not seem suited to withstand criticism from opposition parties or express
similar criticism to others. Of course, supporting any of these claims requires
an analysis of personality traits alongside MP’s parliamentary and/or electoral
behavior, and we have no such analysis here.
This study nevertheless offers a first glimpse at the personality traits associated
with success at different stages of the political career. It may also tell us some-
thing about what voters appreciate or expect from their politicians, and/or the
Table 4 Regression models
of three measures of success,
including gender and education
p values in parentheses
(1) (2) (3)
Preference votes Years in office Elite status
Extra −0.060 −0.518 0.240
(0.927) (0.182) (0.163)
Agree −1.658 −1.090 −0.248
(0.066) (0.038) (0.238)
Cons 0.091 −0.179 −0.091
(0.903) (0.686) (0.615)
Emo 1.288 0.270 0.006
(0.083) (0.529) (0.973)
Open 0.557 0.496 0.430
(0.460) (0.266) (0.022)
List position −0.895
Age 0.228 0.300 0.060
(0.004) (0.000) (0.003)
Gender −0.098 −0.062 −0.772
(0.951) (0.947) (0.067)
Education 1.012 0.683 1.112
(0.530) (0.465) (0.018)
Constant 0.522 −3.249 −8.805
(0.956) (0.557) (0.001)
Observations 208 211 211
R20.176 0.233
J.Joly et al.
personality traits that party leadership rewards when distributing the most impor-
tant political positions.
Whether these findings are good or bad for politics is another matter; as is the
possibility that different political institutions might encourage/reward rather differ-
ent personality traits. Is there something peculiar about the Belgian system that is
particularly rewarding of not-agreeable candidates? There are reasons to suspect that
a proportional, coalition-forming system like the Belgian one might reward rather
than penalize agreeableness; perhaps the advantages of not-agreeableness are even
stronger in a more oppositional, first-past-the-post system in the UK or US. Does
not-agreeableness produce better political representation? On the one hand, inso-
far as not-agreeable politicians are less likely to negotiate or change their minds
on issues, they may actually be more accurate in representing the issue positions
that get them elected. On the other hand, an unwillingness to cooperate may lead to
political deadlock. These are just some of the questions worth considering in future
work, perhaps on the personality traits of politicians across countries. Understanding
the personality traits that produce political success, in one country at least, has been
the objective above. We hope that future work is able to consider how these traits
shift across party structures and political institutions, and consider how this matters
for the nature of politics and the quality of political representation.
Appendix: Ten‑Item Personality Inventory (TIPI)
The next battery of questions is designed to assess certain aspects of your personal-
ity. These questions have been used extensively in a wide variety of international
studies. We would like to ask you to score a number of these traits for which there
is, of course no right or wrong answer. They may seem contradictory, but this is how
the battery has been used successfully in prior research. This is important for us, as
we would like to know if, for example, extravert representatives have different infor-
mation processing styles or other views on how to represent citizens. It is important
to note that your answers are anonymous and will never be used in a way that can
identify you. We list a number of personality traits that may or may not apply to you.
Can you indicate to which extent you agree or disagree with each statement. You
should rate the extent to which a pair of traits applies to you, even if one characteris-
tic applies more strongly than the other. I see myself as:
Disagree a
agree nor
Agree a
Agree mod-
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
1. Extraverted, enthusiastic
2. Critical, quarrelsome
3. Dependable, self-disciplined
4. Anxious, easily upset
5. Open to new experiences, complex
Nice guys finish last: personality andpolitical success
6. Reserved, quiet
7. Sympathetic, warm
8. Disorganized, careless
9. Calm, emotionally stable
10. Conventional, uncreative
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Are candidates with “dark” personality profiles more likely to go negative? We triangulate data for the 2018 Senate Midterms in the United States from two independent sources (the automated coding of social media posts and an expert survey) and test the extent to which the candidates’ “dark” personality traits (narcissism, psychopathy, and Machiavellianism) are associated with their negativity and incivility. By and large, we find that this is the case, especially when combining the separate traits into broader indicators of “dark” personality (“dark core” and underlying personality dimensions). These results resist robustness checks via models run with alternative specifications, such as using measures of personality (and campaign) that are adjusted to filter out the ideological profile of experts, additional covariates, more restrictive modelling, and alternative measurement of key dependent variables.
To what extent are negative election campaigns “tailored” to the personality of the candidates? And with what electoral consequences? In this article we tackle these questions by focusing on the 2019 Swiss federal election. We estimate the presence of negativity as a function of the personality profile of competing candidates (Big Five) and the presence of professional consultants. Analyses based on data from a candidate survey (Selects 2019) suggest that campaign consultants are likely to take stock of the character of their candidate, and tailor the content of their campaigns accordingly ‐ more aggressive for more energetic candidates (higher plasticity) and for less stable candidates (lower stability). These results, we argue, support our central claim that the role of consultants is to provide the most adequate campaign for the candidate they are promoting (“tailoring hypothesis”). We fail however to find any convincing evidence that such tailoring is electorally successful. Inwieweit sind negative Wahlkampagnen auf die Persönlichkeit der Kandidaten „zugeschnitten“? Und welche Konsequenzen hat dieser individuelle Zuschnitt” für ihren Wahlerfolg? In diesem Artikel gehen wir diesen Fragen mit Daten einer Kandidatenbefragung nach, die im Rahmen der Schweizer Nationalratswahlen 2019 durchgeführt wurde (Selects 2019). Wir modellieren das Vorhandensein negativer Wahlkampfkommunikation als Funktion des Persönlichkeitsprofils der konkurrierenden Kandidaten (Big Five) und der Präsenz von Wahlkampfberatern. Unsere Analysen deuten darauf hin, dass Wahlkampfberater den Charakter ihrer Kandidaten einschätzen und den Inhalt ihrer Kampagnen entsprechend anpassen: aggressiver für energischere Kandidaten (höhere Plastizität) und für weniger stabile Kandidaten (geringere Stabilität). Diese Ergebnisse stützen unsere zentrale Annahme, dass Berater die Persönlichkeit der Kandidaten heranziehen, um die am besten geeignete Kampagnenstrategie zu bestimmen („Tailoring‐Hypothese“). Wir finden jedoch keine Hinweise darauf, dass sich der individuelle Zuschnitt von Wahlkampagnen auf den Wahlerfolg niederschlägt. Dans quelle mesure les campagnes électorales négatives sont‐elles adaptées à la personnalité des candidat·e·s? Et avec quelles conséquences électorales? Dans cet article, nous abordons ces questions en nous concentrant sur les élections fédérales suisses de 2019. Nous analysons la présence de négativité en fonction du profil de personnalité des candidat·e·s en lice (Big Five) et de la présence de consultant·e·s professionnel·le·s. Les analyses basées sur les données de l'enquête sur les candidat·e·s (Selects 2019) suggèrent que les consultant·e·s de campagne sont susceptibles de tenir compte de la personnalité de leur candidat·e et d'adapter le contenu de leurs campagnes en conséquence – débouchant sur des campagnes plus agressives pour les candidat·e·s plus énergiques et pour les candidat·e·s moins stables. Selon nous, ces résultats confirment notre postulat central selon lequel le rôle des consultant·e·s est de fournir la campagne la plus adéquate possible pour leur candidat·e (« hypothèse du tailoring »). Nous ne trouvons cependant aucune indication que cette stratégie influence le succès électoral des candidat·e·s.
Who likes dark politicians? This article investigates whether voters showcasing populist attitudes are more likely to appreciate candidates that score high on dark personality traits (narcissism, psychopathy, and Machiavellianism) and low on agreeableness. This intuition is tested on a large-scale, assessing how voters perceive the likeability of top candidates having competed in elections worldwide. The investigation leverages evidence from an international survey that includes expert-ratings for personality profile of 49 top candidates having competed in 22 national elections, matched with standardized survey data gathered in the aftermath of those same elections that include self-ratings of populist attitudes and candidate likeability (CSES data, N = 70,690). Even controlling for important covariates that drive candidate likeability (e.g., the ideological distance between the voter and the candidate), the results strongly confirm the expectations: populist voters are significantly more likely to appreciate candidates high on the Dark triad and low on agreeableness. The effects, especially for (low) agreeableness, are quite substantial.
Utilizing the set of World Governance Indicators published by the World Bank, this paper finds that scoring highly in an indicator measuring respect for rule of law and control of corruption is associated with fewer athletes disqualified and higher medal shares at the Summer Olympics from 1996–2016. Notable reductions in disqualifications and increases in medal shares occur at coincident percentile ranks in the aforementioned indicator, with nations at the 67 th percentile rank and above having a 13.8% higher probability of medaling and a 12.11% lower probability of having an athlete disqualified. These results uncover a new link between governance and Olympic success and provide support for the existing anti-doping rules and enforcement as, ceteris paribus, it would seem that nations whose athletes respect and abide by the rules achieve higher medal shares than those whose athletes do not.
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Thirty-one presidents from every Latin American country-excluding Mexico-who were governing from 1945-2012 tried forty times to change the constitution of their countries to overstay in office. These attempts often caused severe political instability. Current explanations of the variability of term limits have centered on the context in which presidents govern despite the protagonism of the leaders in the constitutional changes. I argue that the personality traits of presidents are an important driver of their overreaching behavior. Centered on the paradigm of the "Big Five," I propose hypotheses about a causal relationship between each of the five core personality factors-openness to experience, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism-and the presidents' attempts to alter their term limits. To test the theory, I use data about presidents who governed from 1945-2012. The results of a discrete-time duration analysis show that three of the Big Five are associated to the likelihood of observing a president changing term limits. I conclude by discussing how this research agenda should be extended to uncover how the uniqueness of the leaders explains relevant outcomes in executive politics.
Honesty is one of the most valued traits in politicians. Yet, because lies often remain undiscovered, it is difficult to study if some politicians are more honest than others. This paper examines which individual characteristics are correlated with truth-telling in a controlled setting in a large sample of politicians. We designed and embedded a game that incentivizes lying with a nonmonetary method in a survey answered by 816 Spanish mayors. Mayors were first asked how interested they were in obtaining a detailed report about the survey results, and at the end of the survey, they had to flip a coin to find out whether they would be sent the report. Because the probability of heads is known, we can estimate the proportion of mayors who lied to obtain the report. We find that a large and statistically significant proportion of mayors lied. Mayors that are members of the two major political parties lied significantly more. We further find that women and men were equally likely to lie. Finally, we find a negative relationship between truth-telling and reelection in the next municipal elections, which suggests that dishonesty might help politicians survive in office.
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We examined the relationship between Big Five personality and the political ideology of elected politicians. To this end, we studied 303 politicians from Flanders, Wallonia, and Canada, relating their self-reported Big Five scores to a partisanship-based measure of political ideology. Our findings show that, in line with the congruency model of personality, Openness to Experience is the best and most consistent correlate of political ideology, with politicians high on Openness to Experience being more likely to be found among the more progressive left-wing political parties.
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This article addresses the variation of anti-corruption and anti-elite salience in party positioning across Europe. It demonstrates that while anti-corruption salience is primarily related to the (regional) context in which a party operates, anti-elite salience is primarily a function of party ideology. Extreme left and extreme conservative (TAN) parties are significantly more likely to emphasize anti-elite views. Through its use of the new 2014 Chapel Hill Expert Survey wave, this article also introduces the dataset.
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Recently the causal influence of education on political knowledge has been questioned. Rather, pre-adult predispositions such as personality traits and intelligence are proposed as the real causal agents. This article investigates in two studies whether education retains its explanatory power regarding political knowledge when personality traits and intelligence are taken into account. One study draws on a draftee sample and has excellent measures of both personality traits and intelligence; the other study draws on a representative sample and has excellent measures of personality traits. Openness to experience and intelligence are found to be positive predictors of political knowledge and neuroticism a negative predictor of political knowledge. In both studies, education remains the single strongest predictor of political knowledge. Furthermore, education can, to a large extent, even out the differences in political knowledge between those with high and low cognitive abilities.
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Recent studies in political psychology report a significant association between personality traits and ordinary citizens’ attitudes and behaviors in the political arena. A growing body of literature examines the influence of personality on individuals’ attachment to a political party and vote choice in electoral settings. In line with these studies, we analyze the relationship between personality traits and “correct voting”, i.e., the extent to which citizens vote in accordance with their own preferences and values. Using a large-scale national survey fielded in the context of the 2008 presidential election, we find that, after controlling for well-known predictors of correct voting, some of personality traits not only exert a direct influence on correct voting, but also moderate the effect of strength of party identification, a well-established determinant of correct voting. These findings provide new evidence for the idea that individual differences such as dispositional personality traits are deeply intertwined with both vote choice and democratic representation.
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This article reports on the 2010 Chapel Hill expert surveys (CHES) and introduces the CHES trend file, which contains measures of national party positioning on European integration, ideology and several European Union (EU) and non-EU policies for 1999−2010. We examine the reliability of expert judgments and cross-validate the 2010 CHES data with data from the Comparative Manifesto Project and the 2009 European Elections Studies survey, and explore basic trends on party positioning since 1999. The dataset is available at the CHES website.
A considerable body of work in political science is built upon the assumption that politicians are more purposive, strategic decision makers than the citizens who elect them. At the same time, other work suggests that the personality profiles of office seekers and the environment they operate in systematically amplifies certain choice anomalies. These contrasting perspectives persist absent direct evidence on the reasoning characteristics of representatives. We address this gap by administering experimental decision tasks to incumbents in Belgium, Canada, and Israel. We demonstrate that politicians are as or more subject to common choice anomalies when compared to nonpoliticians: they exhibit a stronger tendency to escalate commitment when facing sunk costs, they adhere more to policy choices that are presented as the status-quo, their risk calculus is strongly subject to framing effects, and they exhibit distinct future time discounting preferences. This has obvious implications for our understanding of decision making by elected politicians.
Political psychology occupies an uncertain space in the study of international relations and foreign policy. Longstanding but gradually receding conceptions of the international relations field as a series of paradigmatic clashes among realist, liberal, Marxist, and constructivist approaches, or even between rationalism and constructivism, leave little if any room for the beliefs, personalities, emotions, perceptions, and decision-making processes of individual political leaders. 1 Many of the leading research programs in the international relations field today – including realist balance of power and transition theories, the bargaining model of war, democratic peace and capitalist peace theories, and a variety of institutionalist theories – give little or no causal weight to the role of individual political leaders. Debates in international political economy are commonly centered around system, state, and society-centered approaches while neglecting the individual level altogether (Ikenberry, Lake, & Mastanduno, 1988). Constructivist approaches, which should in principle be open to the inclusion of psychological variables, have until recently given little attention to individual agency (Shannon and Kowert, 2012). 2 At the same time, however, explanations of many consequential historical events give considerable causal weight to the role of individual political leaders. Few would think of explaining World War II or the Holocaust without Hitler, Soviet policy in the 1930s and 1940s without Stalin, Chinese foreign policy without Mao, or contemporary Russian policy without Putin. 3 The decisive role of individual leaders is not limited to autocratic states. Many explanations of the United States' invasion of Iraq in 2003 emphasize the critical role of George 1 Realists focus on states or groups trying to maximize power and/or security in an anarchic system lacking in an authoritative decision mechanism. Liberals emphasize the role of domestic interests, institutions, information, and values, along with patterns of economic relationships, in shaping state goals and interactions. Constructivists emphasize the importance of identities, ideas, norms, and meanings, and how they are socially constructed, reproduced, and changed though repeated interactions. There are numerous variations within each approach. For competing theoretical perspectives, see Carlsnaes, Risse, & Simmons (forthcoming).