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“The personalisation of politics in the 21st Century – A research project on democratic elections” – PTDC/CPJ-CPO/120295/2010 – Funded by FCT

The project’s main objective is to provide a comprehensive analysis of the importance of leaders for electoral choices in Portugal and other contemporary democracies. Ultimately, we seek to understand the contribution that personality politics has on the quality of democracy. Studies of the relationship between leaders, their parties and political institutions have stated that democracies have become personalized. That trend is often seen as an indicator of a decline in the political content of electoral choices. In this view, using leaders as a cue for voting symbolizes a decline in the accountability between voters and politicians: the former are wooed by appealing media images rather than through party political mobilisation. However, that is only true if empirically it is determined that leaders matter in political contexts where accountability is low, if they matter due to their personal characteristics, or if they matter especially for those without political knowledge. On the contrary, if we find that leaders matter because of the political positions they hold, their representation of a given party, or for the politically informed, then we must conclude that leader effects are a sign of a politicized, rational electorate. In this scenario, a personalization of politics would signify a relationship between the electorate and politicians whereby the latter are closely monitored.