Is a charismatic candidate necessary to win an election? And, vice versa, will a candidate with poor communication skills cause his party lose? In a direct election, such as that for the U.S. President or even city mayor, does a candidate's image make all that much difference? In newspapers, political circles, and research communities there rages a debate concerning the importance of leader effects in democratic elections. This book explores this topic and describes a multitude of historical examples and case studies, ranging from Kennedy to Bush, from Mitterand to Sarkozy, from Prodi to Berlusconi, from Thatcher to Blair, from Schroeder to Merkel, from Lula to Zapatero. The author shows how personal characteristics and communication strategies help shape ideas in voter's minds and, as a consequence, a public image. But this image is never permanent. Why do popular leaders grow unpopular, and vice versa? The author also addresses the relationship between leaders' images and voting behaviour and, in examining the question of "how much" and "when" such images count, shows which conditions, in terms of candidate requisites and political context, entail a possible and even inevitable direct impact on voters.
Mauro Barisione, an expert on political communication and voting behaviour, teaches Public Opinion Analysis at the University of Milan.