PS: Political Science & Politics


Perceptions of Candidate Character Traits and the Presidential Vote in 2004

Charles  Prysby  a1
a1 University of North Carolina at Greensboro

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Many media pundits explained Bush's victory in the 2004 presidential election as due in large part to an advantage that he held over Kerry in personal characteristics or character traits, at least as perceived by the voters. By these accounts, Kerry was seen by many voters as aloof, humorless, vacillating, and indecisive. In contrast, Bush was viewed as warm, authentic, and a strong leader. Such interpretations were expressed by a wide range of journalists. For example, New York Times Op-Ed columnist David Brooks (2004a) claimed that if “… the Democrats had nominated Dick Gephardt, this election wouldn't be close, but character is destiny, and Kerry's could be debilitating …” Also in the New York Times, Kate Zernike and John Broder (2004) found that in interviews around the country taken the day after the election, “the voices of voters … fairly shouted that the outcome was … about a fundamental question of character.” Leadership was the trait most commonly cited as one of Bush's strengths. As one voter whom they interviewed put it, “People say George Bush is a cowboy … People say he shoots quick … sometimes you have to do that, you have to be decisive. Kerry never projected that.” Kerry was also faulted for being dull and uninspiring. Brooks (New York Times 2004b) felt that Kerry talked “like a manager or an engineer.” Others felt that Kerry lacked the personal warmth or charm that would allow voters to relate to him. Klein (2006, 221) felt that Kerry “… remained aloof, a distant figure, a politician in all the worst senses of the word.” Perhaps the worst insult was hurled by one of my students, who called Kerry “too professorial.” a


a Author's note: I appreciate the comments provided by two of my colleagues, David Holian and Greg McAvoy.