Elections: Personal Popularity in U.S. Presidential Elections



A commonly held view is that presidential elections are largely personality contests, and that the candidate with the best-liked personality wins. But is this really the case? Based on a careful analysis of national survey data from the last 11 presidential elections, this article concludes that such a view is unfounded. The most personally popular candidate does not always win in the U.S.—indeed, in recent elections, the most personally popular candidate has generally lost. Much more central to candidate evaluations, and to who emerges victorious, are perceptions of candidates’ stands on the issues.