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AN UNREALISTIC IDEAL? THE IMPORTANCE OF VISIONS OF AN IDEAL PRIME MINISTER FOR EVALUATIONS OF CANDIDATES AND VOTING INTENTIONS

Open Panel

Abstract

Voters construct a prototype of an ideal prime minister which they use to evaluate current candidates. The present study raises the question whether this image of an ideal candidate – as proposed by Tannenbaum, Greenberg, and Silverman (1962) – can be regarded as a stable standard against which current candidates are contrasted or whether it is subject to changing orientations of voters. Images of current candidates and the ideal prime minister are investigated prior to an upcoming regional election in Rhineland-Palatinate (Germany), where a unique array of candidates is present: with a very different profile, long-time incumbent Kurt Beck (Social Democrats) is challenged by newcomer Julia Klöckner (Christian Democrats). With data from a representative telephone survey, citizens’ characterizations of candidates and their images of an ideal prime minister are investigated. Three main aspects are explored: (1) Does the evaluation of the incumbent improve if evaluations are weighted according to their importance for the image of an ideal prime minister? This would indicate that the image of the incumbent shapes the image of an ideal candidate. (2) Do partisans’ images of an ideal prime minister reflect the strengths and weaknesses of their respective parties’ candidates? If so, features of current candidates seem to shape the image of the ideal candidate. (3) Do citizens intend not to vote if none of the candidates gets close to their ideal image of a prime minister? Then, an exaggerated image of an ideal prime minister might be an important cause of political apathy.