The simplicity of politicians' personalities across political context: An anomalous replication

Gian Vittorio Caprara, Claudio Barbaranelli, R. Chris Fraley, Michele Vecchione

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Modern politics is becoming increasingly personalized. The personal qualities of political candidates, in fact, account for a considerable amount of the variance in the candidate preference of voters, often more than the political issues in their electoral programs. Despite the emphasis that both the media and campaign leaders place on the ways in which the personalities of politicians are portrayed, people tend to view the personalities of politicians in remarkably simple ways. Here we show that, although people tend to use five personality dimensions to characterize their own personalities, they rely upon only two dimensions to characterize the personalities of politicians. This finding holds across countries (i.e., Italy and the US), and across political figures (i.e., Prodi and Berlusconi in Italy, and Bush and Kerry in the US). The two factors obtained from evaluations of Prodi, Berlusconi, and Kerry were respectively a blend of Energy/Extraversion and Openness and a blend of Friendliness, Conscientiousness, and Emotional Stability. The two factors obtained from evaluations of the US president, though, were respectively a blend of Openness, Conscientiousness, and Friendliness, and a blend of Energy/Extraversion, Emotional Stability, and Friendliness. Thus, the present study is novel in suggesting that while the personalities of politicians may be reduced by voters, they are not always reduced to the same basic factors. Alternative explanations of this "simplification effect" are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)393-405
Number of pages13
JournalInternational Journal of Psychology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 2007

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • General Psychology


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