Rowman and Littlefield International
The Personalisation of Politics

The Personalisation of Politics

A Study of Parliamentary Democracies

By Lauri Karvonen

Publication Date: Feb 2010

Pages 132

ECPR Press

Paperback 9781907301032
£24.00 €33.00 $37.95

With the weakening of the structural determinants of politics in Western democracies, it is commonly assumed that individual politicians and politicians as individuals have come to mean more for voter behaviour and party choice. Many observers argue that politics has become more personalised in the course of the last few decades. Although considerable research on the various aspects of personalisation has been carried out, no single study so far has approached the question from a broad comparative perspective. By examining four central dimensions of personalisation – institutions, candidates, party leaders and media – and by including data from most stable parliamentary democracies, this book attempts to fill part of that gap. The book demonstrates clearly that there is no linear trend towards more personalisation among the cases studied. From the point of view of the general personalisation thesis, the findings are mixed at best; in some important respects, they are negative. While the media tend to focus more on individual politicians, the idea that party leaders increasingly determine the party choice of voters finds little support in empirical evidence. Most researchers seem to agree that the position of the prime minister has become more dominant. A closer look at comparative evidence results in a more complex picture. There has been a certain tendency to develop the most party-centred electoral systems in a more candidate-centred direction. On the other hand, recent reforms have altered some of the most candidate-centred systems in the opposite direction. Individual candidates seem to mean more to voters in systems where preferential voting has been practiced for a long time. This change is by no means dramatic, nor does it seem to apply to other electoral systems. Karvonen shows that the personalisation thesis, while not completely erroneous, has been overstated not just by the media but in some of the research literature as well.


Introduction 1

Focus and scope 2

Why personalisation? 4

What is personalisation? 4

Taking stock of research 5

Summing up: directions for further research 14

Plan of the book 21

Chapter one: Institutions and personalisation 23

Prime ministers in parliamentary democracies 25

More candidate-centred electoral systems? 35

Summary and conclusions 40

Chapter two: Have individual candidates become more prominent? 41

Flexible-list systems 43

Systems with compulsory preference voting 49

Ticket-splitting in a mixed-member system: Germany 58

Systems without candidate choice: Britain and Norway 60

Summary and conclusions 62

Chapter three: Leaders and citizens 65

Previous research says ‘no’ 66

Research questions 68

Six parliamentary democracies, 1961–2001 69

Party switchers and party leaders 81

Summary and conclusions 84

Chapter four: How politics is presented: media and personalisation 85

Britain: Prime ministers in The Times 87

Sweden: party leaders, election campaigns and the press 93

Finland: campaign advertisements 96

Summary and conclusions 99

Conclusion: Is there a personalisation of politics? 101

No pervasive trend, many indications 101

Positive cases 102

Mixed-positive cases 103

Mixed-negative cases 104

Negative cases 105

Cases based on a single indicator 105

Refl ections 106

Bibliography 109

Index 117

Lauri Karvonen is Professor of Political Science at Åbo Akademi, Finland, and Director of Democracy: A Citizen Perspective (D:CE, a Centre of Excellence in Research on Democracy). His previous books include Fragmentation and Consensus (1993) and Party Systems and Voter Alignments Revisited(2001). He has published articles in journals such as International Studies Quarterly, Journal of Theoretical Politics, International Political Science Review and Party Politics.

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