Voters Punish Politicians with Depression

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Authors Peter John Loewen, Ludovic Rheault
Journal/Conference Name BRITISH JOURNAL OF POLITICAL SCIENCE
Paper Category
Paper Abstract Despite a literature suggesting that a political candidate’s personality matters for vote choice, no empirical studies have examined the extent to which the mental health of politicians affects the behaviour of voters. Yet, discussions about the health condition of politicians frequently make headlines during campaigns and evidence suggests that mental health disorders such as depression are common in politics. With the objective of addressing this gap, the present study sets out to estimate the extent to which a public revelation of depression affects one’s chances of being selected for higher office, compared to physical diseases. Our research design relies on survey experiments in which subjects are randomly assigned to candidate biographies, some of which contain information on medical conditions. We invited subjects to choose between these candidates and evaluate their personality. We report concrete estimates of the magnitude of a mental health stigma: candidates with depression suffer from a roughly 10 percentage point disadvantage compared to candidates afflicted with a physical illness. We show that even co-partisans are willing to punish candidates with depression.
Date of publication 2018
Code Programming Language R
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