The project is situated in the comparative electoral behaviour field. Using a comparative and multilevel methodological approach the significance of leader effects for the quality of democracy will be analysed. Evidence from an array of countries with diverse historical and institutional contexts will be collected.
Thus, the project aims at modelling contexts to understand the nature of leader effects in voting behaviour, and ultimately on the quality of democracy. As such, we define four broad types of contexts which have not been adequately modelled until now where leader effects will be investigated:
- Institutional context: We would like to model the way in which differences in degree of prime ministerial power may have an impact on the strength of leader effects. The second context is the party organization itself.
- Partisan context: Previous research has shown that the type of party (mass-based vs. electoralist) acts as an important variable to mediate between the electors and the vote. This project will seek to understand the way in which differences in party organization characteristics may enhance or mitigate leader effects.
- Individual context:The third context to be investigated is individual. The issue of which voters are more prone to use leaders in their vote calculus, will be addressed using two different approaches: one which assesses recalled behaviour and another which tries to measure the relationship between emotions, cognitive assumptions and behaviour. Past research has suggested that candidates may matter more for: voters with low levels of political sophistication. The project will analyse the profile of voters who are influenced by leaders, namely in terms of political sophistication, and degree of party identification, and emotions.
- Temporal Context: The fourth context is temporal. Namely, we will investigate the impact of leaders during election campaigns. Leaders may play very specific roles during the period that immediately precede the vote, namely, they can be important for converting, mobilizing or simply reinforcing the choice for a party. If leaders mostly serve to reinforce the vote, they can be seen as a proxy for party identification, whereas if they act as catalysts for conversion, then perhaps, if voters have low sophistication, the vote is being driven by leader images devoid of content.