Long-standing theories on voting behavior assume rational vote choice to be based on parties’ and candidates’ perceived competences in handling policy issues (issue-based vote choice). However, due to trends of partisan de-alignment and tendencies of personalization in politics and the media, electoral decisions based on candidate evaluations (character-based vote choice) become increasingly relevant to research on voting behavior. Due to the specific campaign context which was marked by scandals calling the character of incumbent Justin Trudeau and his opponent Andrew Scheer into question, the 2019 Canadian federal election serves as a case study to assess the influence of candidate character evaluations on vote choice.
To shed light on the relative influence of issue ownership and character evaluations on vote choice and to explore the role of specific character traits as well as political sophistication as a potentially moderating factor, binomial logistic regressions, multiple linear regressions, and moderation analyses are computed. All data is derived from the post-election online survey of the 2019 Canadian Election Study. The final sample informing the inferential statistical analyses comprises 2,887 respondents.
The results show that partisanship is the single most influential coefficient for vote choice for both candidates, surpassing the influence of character evaluations and issue ownership. Leaving aside the overall primacy of partisanship, the influence of character ratings and issue ownership on vote choice differs for the incumbent and the challenger. Moreover, the findings demonstrate that the most influential character trait for overall evaluations varies between the candidates. Both findings speak for the contextuality of character-based and issue-based vote choice rather than the dominance of one of the concepts and against globally influential traits. Finally, no evidence is found linking character-based vote choice to the less politically sophisticated. Thus, revalorizing character-based vote choice as a rational heuristic.