It’s Who’s on the Inside that Counts

Hans Hassell

Ever get the sense that the people who want to run for election are exactly the type of people you don’t want to have running for election? While ancient democracies occasionally used random selection to fill government positions, modern democracies fill those positions through a process of election of individuals who choose to stand for election. Those who choose to stand for election are significantly and substantively different from the general population. These differences are further exacerbated by the set of individuals who choose to work on political campaigns.

In “It’s Who’s on the Inside that Counts: Campaign Practitioner Personality and Campaign Electoral Integrity,” I examine whether the type of individuals who are interested in running for public office and who are participating in electoral campaigns are those who will foster a political environment that encourages widespread participation and a healthy democratic process. Specifically, this paper looks at how differences in individual personality traits of people working on campaigns affect the willingness of those individuals to use negative campaigning and to engage in unethical campaign behaviors.

Previous work has found that personality traits influence interest in running for political office and in engaging with political campaigns. This work takes the next step in looking at whether individuals with those traits that predict increased interest in political campaigns also incline those individuals to certain tactics on the campaign trail.

I find that they do. In this work, I use a survey of individuals working on senatorial, gubernatorial, and congressional campaigns to examine how personality affects campaign tactics and actions. I focus on three of the Big Five personality traits: agreeableness, extraversion, and conscientiousness. Individuals high in agreeableness have a higher concern for social harmony and trust other people. Individuals high in extraversion like to be noticed, like to take charge, and think they can influence others. Lastly, individuals high in conscientiousness plan carefully for the future and may be more likely to consider potential consequences of rash actions. In regards to political ambition, previous work has shown that those with higher levels of agreeableness and conscientiousness are less likely to express political ambition while individuals with higher levels of extraversion are more likely to be interested in running for public office.

In my work here, I find that that the traits that incline people to run for office are unfortunately also the traits that encourage campaign actions that may be deleterious to democratic institutions. I find that individuals with higher levels of agreeableness and conscientiousness are less likely to endorse campaign messaging that is negative in its tone. In addition, individuals with these traits are less likely to condone unethical campaign behaviors such as stealing yard signs or intentionally misrepresenting a candidate’s accomplishments. In contrast, individuals with higher levels of extraversion are more likely to engage in both activities. In short, the individual who are most likely to express interest in running for office (those with higher levels of extraversion and lower levels of conscientiousness and agreeableness) are exactly the type of individuals who are most likely to engage in objectionable campaign behaviors.

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