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Partisan yet personal politicians: Candidates' biographies and why they matter


Despite the central role of politicians in representative democracies, political science has largely ignored how who candidates for elected office are shape the representative relationship. By communicating biographical details about their family, occupation, education, religion, and other personal background, political candidates attempt to build trust and alter how they will be evaluated by voters. Yet, partisan stereotypes and voters' own partisan identites constrain their ability to evaluate these personal details objectively. Using systematized biographies of all US congressional candidates from 2008-2014, television advertising data from 2008-2014, and several survey experiments, I demonstrate that biographical presentation by candidates is ubiquitous, systematic, and effectual in shaping the opinion of voters. Descriptively, I find that a diverse set of biographical attributes, including demographics such as race, ethnicity, and gender, are associated with candidates' partisan affiliation, undergirding modern partisan stereotypes. Furthermore, many of these biographical attributes, particularly those signalling business, civic, and political experience, are related to electoral success.

Sample chapters:

  • [PDF] Personal politicians: Biographies of congressional candidates and their strategic campaign presentation
  • [PDF] Evaluating politicians: Measuring information's relative impact, memorability, and importance over time