1Ségolène Royal, former socialist candidate at the presidential elections in 2007, was in for an unpleasant surprise when she stood again in the 2012 legislative elections. She was heavily defeated by a dissident socialist candidate (receiving 37.02% of the votes versus 62.98% for her opponent). This result was all the more surprising as a month before the socialist candidate for the presidential election, François Hollande, had received 55.59% of the votes in the same constituency. Conversely, although UMP candidate Nicolas Sarkozy received the majority of valid votes (50.35%) in the Boulogne Billancourt constituency in the first round of the 2012 presidential election, several weeks later his former Interior Minister and official UMP candidate, Claude Guéant, failed to get through to the second round in the same constituency by 137 votes. Beyond these two notable instances in which dissenting candidates won the vote, the discrepancy within the same constituency between the winning candidate at the legislative election and at the presidential election is far from marginal. For example, the socialist MP Jean-Louis Dumont was re-elected in a constituency where Sarkozy garnered 54.6% of the valid votes. In fact, in 49 constituencies (located in 28 départements) where Sarkozy gained more than 50% of the valid votes in the second round of the presidential elections, the winning candidate at the parliamentary elections was not a member of the broad center-right coalition. The parliamentary candidates elected in constituencies which leaned to the right at the presidential election represented the diversity of the political spectrum, from the communist party to the National Front. The converse is also true: MPs who did not belong to the presidential leftwing coalition were elected in constituencies which leaned to the left at the presidential election: 36 such candidates were elected in 27 départements, despite the fact that Hollande received more than 50% of the valid votes in these constituencies. The election of centre-right Jean-Christophe Lagarde is probably the most striking example in a constituency where Hollande won 66% of the vote. Overall, in 85 constituencies – i.e. 15% of French constituencies – there is a form of split ticket voting,  or at least a mismatch between the outcomes of the presidential and parliamentary elections. These examples cast doubts on two common features associated with French parliamentary elections in the literature: (i) They are usually considered as driven by the result of the last presidential election: these are the so-called “honeymoon parliamentary elections”.  According to this perspective, MPs are elected “riding on the coat-tails” of the new president. Fauvelle-Aymar, Lewis-Beck and Nadeau crudely sum up this idea: “‘presidentialisation’ has lessened the value of National Assembly elections, rendering them second order, increasingly a pawn in the presidential power struggle”;  (ii) Parliamentary elections are considered as driven by partisanship. Voters’ identification with a political party determines their choice of candidate, depending on the latter’s party affiliation.  In his longitudinal study of the determinants of MPs’ re-election from 1871 to 2002, Loonis (2006), states that “the political label has an increasing role after WWII […]. So it is logical to make the assumption that the role of individual features has declined.”
2In fact, previous examples illustrate that voters do not simply vote for a party or for/against the French president during French parliamentary elections. A candidate effect could be hypothesized to explain the discrepancy between presidential and parliamentary voting. This insight is far from being new. As early as 1966, studying the outcomes of presidential elections, Donald Stokes, one of the Michigan model’s advocates, underscored that the “fluctuations of electoral attitudes over these elections have to a remarkable degree focused on the candidates themselves”.  This candidate effect is defined as “the additional vote that a particular candidate wins (or loses)”  directly or indirectly because of his/her personal features. Since this seminal work, along with the growth of the “personalization of politics”,  the candidate effect has been increasingly studied, initially in relation to presidential elections in the United States.  Beyond this, with the rise of the concept of the “presidentialisation of politics”, the candidate effect has also been investigated in several Western countries in relation to the impact of the party leader’s image on the outcome of parliamentary elections. The conclusions of these studies have been disputed in terms of empirical results.  After a first wave of studies  that argued that a political leader’s image is relevant to voter choice and therefore has become more important, a second wave of studies challenged these results. 
3Curtice and Holmberg (2005) concluded that the independent effect of leader evaluation in six Western European countries was very limited and showed no increase over time. At the constituency level, the candidate effect has also been scrutinized focusing on the “personal vote”,  i.e. the portion of a candidate’s electoral support which stems from his/her own personal features, actions and record.  Although relatively scarce, studies have not been limited to majority electoral systems.  Nevertheless, the results did not unequivocally support the empirical relevance of the personal vote: some studies  clearly underscored it whereas others displayed inconclusive results. 
4French researchers have been reluctant to follow this trend in research  and have systematically analyzed the candidate effect. Nevertheless, scholars have shown that voters’ choices as well as the outcomes of presidential elections have been heavily influenced by a candidate’s image.  The impact of the candidate effect on voter choice and the electoral outcomes of parliamentary elections have been even more neglected. Although single member majority system elections with two rounds lead to strong hands-on campaigns in relatively small constituencies, existing studies characterize French parliamentary elections as a very unlikely case for the candidate effect: choosing an MP in France is described as heavily driven by partisanship, ideology, and the presidential elections. Is there any room left for a candidate effect? Analyzing electoral choice in French parliamentary elections is therefore a stringent test for the candidate effect hypothesis, which might bring new insights regarding the ongoing theoretical debate about the relative importance within electoral choice  of party identification (and ideology), party leader’s image (and/or presidential election effect), and the evaluation of candidates, as well as the relationship between these variables.  For this purpose, we specifically designed a survey for the 2012 French parliamentary elections to investigate the various determinants of electoral choices in parliamentary elections as well as the role of candidate evaluations.
5Beyond analyzing the candidate effect for the first time in French parliamentary elections via dedicated survey data, our paper also aims to disentangle the candidate effect from the main causal arguments. Section 1 offers a theoretical discussion of the potential benefits and pitfalls of integrating the candidate effect into explanations of electoral choices. Section 2 presents the survey on which this article is based and introduces our operationalization of dependent and independent variables. Section 3 displays the results of logistic and conditional logit regressions – which unequivocally support our expectation of a candidate effect – and illustrates the possibilities of this approach for assessing “the effects of a cause”.
Section 1 – Beyond endogeneity: a candidate effect in electoral choice?
6Even if the Michigan model included “personalities” as one of the short-term factors in electoral choice, Campbell et al. emphasized that voting behavior is first of all explained by “the role of enduring partisan commitments in shaping attitudes toward political object(s?)”. So-called party identification is a long-term affective orientation to a political party which is rooted in early socialization and based on an objective location in the social structure.  Party identification as an “unmoved mover” has “a powerful and pervasive influence on perceptions of political events”.  Some of the Michigan model followers underscored that “the specific effect of candidates’ image should thus be established after controlling for the other long-term factors (ideology, religion and class for example) and short-term factors (issues, particularly the economy) affecting electoral choice”.  The underlying idea is that as partisan identification filters and biases political perception, candidate evaluation among other factors is strongly determined by partisan identification.
7Nevertheless the relevance of party identification has been challenged on several grounds.
8(i) First, scholars have shown that there are more party switches than expected in response to short-term changes.  Thus the true meaning of what is measured by the classic variable of partisan proximity has been disputed. Furthermore, scholars point to the endogeneity problem.  Page and Jones underscored that “even short of major realignments, party affiliations are effects as well as causes in the electoral process”.  Sensitivity to certain issues – such as the economic situation – is usually thought to affect partisanship. But Page and Jones added that party loyalties “do not function purely as fixed determinants of the vote; those loyalties can themselves be affected by attitudes toward the current candidates”. In a recent study of Britain, Germany and the Netherlands, Garzia concluded that “when it comes to partisanship, voters’ evaluation of party leaders appears to have become the most powerful driver of partisan alignments at the individual level”.  Thus, according to him, including both partisanship and party leader evaluation as well as “the bidirectional arrows between these variables” in electoral research is necessary to adequately test the personalization hypothesis.
9(ii) Second, scholars questioned the relevance of partisan identification beyond the US. For multiparty systems or short-lived parties, some authors doubted the explanatory power of partisan identification  and stressed the importance of ideology instead of party. In Western Europe at least, the left-right dimension drives electoral choice. 
10So on a general theoretical level, electoral choice in parliamentary elections depends at a minimum on partisanship (which depends on the evaluation of party leaders), on the evaluation of party leaders (which depends on partisanship), and on ideology. It is also very likely that ideology, partisanship and the evaluation of party leaders are endogenous. Thus studying the personalization hypothesis at the level of party leaders is tricky. However, it might be studied more easily at the constituency candidate level. In nationalized political systems, if we accept that the evaluation of party leaders affects partisanship (as well as ideology) and vice versa, we might easily assume that voter evaluations of constituency party candidates do not affect partisanship (and ideology) even if partisanship (and ideology) is assumed to affect voter evaluations of constituency party candidates. Studying the personalization hypothesis is thus methodologically far easier at the constituency candidate level once a method for studying the candidate effect has been rigorously specified.
11In majoritarian Western parliamentary elections, the candidate effect is usually studied by the “personal vote” approach. In a nutshell, if the normal partisan vote refers to the electoral support a candidate at parliamentary elections can expect according to the underlying distribution of partisanship, of ideology, and of the support for the current government within her/his constituency, the “personal vote” is defined as the electoral support a candidate receives due to her/his own “performance” and qualities, independent of partisanship, of ideology, and of the support for the current government within her/his constituency. In more precise terms, Cain et al. defined the personal vote as, “[…] that portion of a candidate’s electoral support which originates in his or her personal qualities, qualifications, activities, and record”.  So, the personal vote is most often conceptualized as a “positive prejudice”. Whereas Blais et al. explicitly mentioned the negative side of the personal vote, they only operationalized the positive side by asking the following question: “Was there a candidate in your riding you particularly liked?”. Indeed, most scholars are looking for arguments that illustrate why incumbents  or contenders get more votes, but they rarely question the opposite situation, the case of a candidate generating votes against her/himself because of a negative perception of her/his person or actions. But the most severe limitation concerning this topic is a lack of precision. In 1974, Mayhew noted that since the end of World War II, there had been an increase in the proportion of votes received by congressional incumbents.  Since then, most of the time, the understanding of the personal vote has been connected (and limited) to the incumbency effect.  In one of their previous articles before their seminal publication on the personal vote, Cain et al. stated that their “analysis finds an incumbency advantage or personal vote in Britain which is much weaker than that in the United States”.  Although there is evidence of an incumbency effect,  studies of this phenomenon rarely explain exactly why incumbents get more votes but nevertheless consider it as a part of the personal vote. Moreover, not only incumbents but also contenders should be taken into account. If the former are better known in public, the latter may also gain some personal credit because of their rootedness in the local system; their participation in local networks; and/or, sometimes, simply their lack of prior involvement in politics…. Our study clearly aims to address the issue of eligibility defined sociologically: “in a given political configuration, eligibility is an addition of social and structural factors bringing and making it possible for a person to conquer – and to keep – a mandate within the framework of democratic competition”.  The various factors evoked in this definition concern three major kinds of largely interconnected phenomena: (i) Institutional aspects which affect access to office (the electoral system, local political context etc.); ii) Structural and contextual variables (geography and the size of the constituency, the candidate’s social background, and his/her relations with the constituency, its inhabitants and social institutions, and other common biographical variables ); (iii) Representations – of the candidates, the voters, the members of the political parties etc. – that are essential to understanding political phenomena in Western democracies. The last two dimensions are directly connected to the candidate effect but an inclusive definition of this particular effect is required to shed light on the eligibility issue.
12Thus the candidate effect is defined as “the additional vote that a particular candidate wins (or loses)”  directly or indirectly because of voters’ evaluations of him or her. The focus of this article will be on the direct (or local) candidate effect instead of the indirect (or national) party leader effect in legislative elections. Candidate evaluation refers to the features of a candidate perceived by voters. The perception of the candidate by the voter is usually called “image”. Several traits define a candidate’s image. Nevertheless, our definition of the candidate effect is limited to neither physical appearance  nor personality – narrowly defined by King as “their physical appearance, their native intelligence, their character or temperament, and their political style”.  Other than in France, traits and images of presidential candidates and party leaders have been investigated extensively. Nevertheless, there is still conflicting evidence, even in the US, about which traits are most salient for the evaluation of candidates and which are the relevant dimensions. According to Kinder, the four principal dimensions of presidential personality are competence, leadership, integrity, and empathy.  Miller et al. distinguished five “broad categories”: competence, integrity, reliability, charisma, and (idiosyncratic) personal quality.  Todorov et al. argued for three clusters based on seven traits: competence (competence, intelligence, and leadership), trust (trustworthiness, honesty), and likeability (charisma, likeability). Kessel’s typology of candidates’ qualities lists the following categories: general, record-incumbency, experience, management, intelligence, trust, and personality.  Shephard and Johns concluded tentatively that eight traits – competence, intelligence, leadership ability, charisma, likeability, attractiveness, honesty, and caring – have been used “most often in the literature and have been shown at least somewhere to correlate with electoral preference, however measured”.  Since there’s no general consensus on the most important traits, our study of candidate effect is based on voters’ evaluation of candidates on the eleven different traits we considered the most relevant (see below): general, likeability, concern, political renewal, political proximity, reliability, empathy, competence, leadership, record, local connection.
13These traits will allow us to test, all other things being equal, whether or not voters’ evaluations of candidates affect their electoral choice negatively or positively. Choosing a candidate in parliamentary elections will be understood as the product of partisanship, ideology, and the evaluation of both the party leader and the constituency candidate. However, we are less interested in (the relative weights of) the causes of voting behavior in parliamentary elections than in the effects of a cause – i.e. the evaluation of the candidate – in electoral choice in parliamentary elections. The highly polarized and presidentialized French political system is a demanding – and therefore perfect – test case for an empirical investigation of the candidate effect in parliamentary elections.
Section 2 – Design, data and measures
14Since one of the key objectives of the 1958 constitution was to limit parliament’s  prerogatives, the French political system – a semi-presidential regime – is usually described as highly presidentialized  in its various components: institutions, electoral competition, and party organization.  Consequently, parliamentary elections are seldom the primary focus for parties, voters,  and political scientists  in France. Nevertheless, the parliamentary component of the regime compels the president to appoint a prime minister who enjoys a majority in the lower chamber to ensure that the executive branch is unified and will be able to govern effectively. The goal is thus to avoid a cohabitation, which is a case of divided government stemming from the situation of split executive that occurs when the president and the majority in the National Assembly are rivals. 
15However, occurring soon after the presidential elections, parliamentary elections are usually considered to be just “elections of confirmation”. “In the French case, the institutionalization of electoral cycles that begin with a presidential election and are immediately followed by a honeymoon legislative election shifts the balance in favour of the president.”  The results of the presidential elections affect the parliamentary elections in that the presidential majority’s candidates benefit from them. Such a situation is greatly helped by the majority two-round system that produces a hugely disproportionate effect in favor of the winner.  Electoral choice in the “honeymoon parliamentary election” is driven by satisfaction with the new president. From a comparative point of view, the underlying logic of this French “honeymoon parliamentary election” does not differ fundamentally from the effect of voter evaluation of the party leaders in legislative elections in parliamentary regimes; the difference being that in France, the focus will only be on the evaluation of the president. The personalization hypothesis at the national level – the effect of voter evaluation of the party leaders – and the honeymoon hypothesis are de facto fused in the French case. The existing studies underscore the strength of their effect. As the (centralized) personalization effect is described as strong,  is there any room for a (decentralized) personalization effect, i.e. an effect of voters’ evaluation of the constituency candidates? Given the lack of investigation, scholars seem to consider this a worthless research agenda.
16The lack of research about the effect of voters’ evaluation of the constituency candidates probably also stems from another feature of the French political system. France is usually described as a polarized political system. In this perspective, electoral choice in French parliamentary elections is the product of this polarization. Nevertheless, there has been a fierce academic debate regarding partisanship versus ideology as the main cause of electoral choice in French parliamentary elections. Applying the Michigan model to France, Converse and Pierce strongly supported the idea that party identification is the main determinant of voting choice in French parliamentary elections.  But the explanatory power of party identification for the French case has also been questioned by some authors.  Instead, they have argued that ideology – the left-right dimension – is the determinant of electoral choice in France.  After an examination of legislative election surveys from 1958 to 1981, Lewis-Beck emphasized that “ideological identity appears generally to serve as the French voter’s compass”. 
18Scholars have underscored that electoral decisions in French parliamentary elections are driven by the voter’s evaluation of the president, by partisanship, and by ideology. Whilst these features do not prevent a candidate evaluation effect, they are unlikely to allow it either. Thus, if candidate evaluation does have an effect on electoral choice in one of the least likely cases  – the French parliamentary elections – then the candidate effect is likely to have a more general relevance as a cause of electoral choice. This is why we chose to study the 2012 parliamentary elections in France.
19These 2012 legislative elections took place in a specific context. In May 2012, Nicolas Sarkozy, the rightwing French president was defeated by François Hollande, his socialist opponent. This was only the second time in over 50 years that a socialist president had been elected in France under the Fifth Republic.  Nevertheless, despite a turnout of 80.4% of registered voters, the margin between the two candidates was closer than anticipated (Table 1).
Results of the second round of the 2012 presidential election
Results of the second round of the 2012 presidential election
20In such a context the importance of legislative elections was crucial. The turnout for the legislative elections dropped dramatically compared to the presidential election (about 30% less). The abstention rate reached 44.6 % in the second round which set a record under the Fifth Republic, confirming again that for French voters the election of the president remains the most important political appointment. And, once again, the presidential coalition won the majority of the seats at the parliamentary elections (Table 2).
Results of the 2012 legislative elections compared to 2007
Results of the 2012 legislative elections compared to 2007
21The LEG 2012 survey  was developed in order to study the candidate effect during the French parliamentary elections in 2012. As in previous studies of parliamentary elections,  the survey is based on a sample of constituencies. Given the purpose of our research, the design of our sample departs from the previous ones in two key aspects. First, the number of constituencies has been drastically decreased in order to have a significant number of respondents per constituency. Second, we did not rely on random choice alone to select our constituency sample. A sample of 20 constituencies was selected on the basis of three criteria.
22(1) The aim was to distinguish between constituencies according to their main socio-economic features: their economic situation, whether they were rural or urban, their degree of industrialization. We ran a cluster analysis  of the metropolitan constituencies using the following variables as proxies:  the unemployment rate, the proportion of workers in agriculture, forestry and fishing, as well as the proportion of workers in industry. Five groups were distinguished with a similar weight.  Thus we selected four constituencies in each group.
23(2) The goal was to take into account the political leaning of the constituency. We distinguished leftwing and rightwing strongholds from constituencies in which the political competition between left and right was intense. We defined a leftwing (or a rightwing) stronghold as a constituency which had elected a leftwing (or a rightwing) incumbent at least four times out of five since 1988. Five constituencies were selected for each of the four different types of political feature.
24(3) Finally the constituencies had to reflect the geography of the metropolitan territory in order to take into account the various regional contexts and political cultures. The 20 constituencies that were chosen according to the first two criteria (Table 3) are located in 20 départements and 16 regions (Figure 1).
Socio-economic and political features of the selected constituencies
Socio-economic and political features of the selected constituencies
Map of the French départements with selected constituencies
Map of the French départements with selected constituencies
25In each constituency, at least 150 phone interviews were undertaken by TNS–Sofres. The final database contains 3028 respondents. Given the number of interviews per constituency, simplified quotas have been used: gender, age (three categories) and occupation (three categories).
Measuring candidate evaluation: candidate traits and images
26As our focus is on parliamentary elections in a specific context, i.e. French politics, the eleven different traits studied do not simply replicate the traits usually included in the above-mentioned studies of candidates’ image: general, likeability, concern, political renewal, political proximity, reliability, empathy, competence, leadership, record, local connection. These eleven traits of course cover most of the various dimensions of candidate evaluation that have been studied in the literature. Nevertheless, as only the traits of competence, integrity and empathy have been studied so far in France, we had to create several specific questions in order to approximate the other traits (Table 4). The first six items are specifically linked to the constituency. Surprisingly, in a country in which the idea of national sovereignty has such resonance, voters perceive representation as primarily an electoral and territorial connection.  Further, MPs value local involvement more than parliamentary work.  The famous – and probably overestimated – feebleness of the French parliament, the electoral system, and/or the cumul des mandats are the usual explanations of these features. Thus, more than half of the items tackle traits linked to the constituency and not to the National Assembly. The national dimension of an MP’s role is captured, implicitly, by the other items. We also added several traits that are not usually included in candidate evaluation question batteries. First, an indicator of political proximity to the candidate has been used. A voter might be close(r) to a political party but might nonetheless consider that this party’s candidate is not close to him or her because of the internal heterogeneity of political parties. Local connection was introduced to take into account the perceived rootedness of a candidate. In French parliamentary elections at least, this quality is very often emphasised or denied. Finally, against the background of growing distrust of politicians, one item assesses whether or not the candidate embodies political renewal, i.e. a positive change in political personnel, whatever the reason (age, seniority, professional background, etc.).
The traits of the candidates
The traits of the candidates
27These eleven items were tested for a sample of party candidates. We selected 40 candidates that were the front-runners in the 20 selected constituencies as well as nine other candidates who were either the outgoing MPs or the third candidate at the end of the first round. Each respondent was asked about two or three candidates. Only the evaluations of UMP and PS candidates and their impact will be studied in this paper.
28As the sine qua non condition of any candidate effect is to know the candidate, the respondents were asked whether or not they were familiar with them without mentioning their party affiliation. In this regard, the UMP candidates were comparatively well known. Respectively, 87% and 79% of the UMP and PS candidates under study were known by the respondents.  Provided that the candidates were known, the eleven questions regarding the candidates’ traits were asked.
29Raw frequency results show that voters’ perceptions of candidates display strong variations. Tables 5 and 6 on the topic of local connection are a good illustration of these discrepancies.
Results for local connection for PS candidates 
Results for local connection for PS candidates 
Results for local connection for UMP candidates
Results for local connection for UMP candidates
30The two tables illustrate a double tendency. (i) There is a difference in voters’ perceptions of candidates’ local connections as a function of whether candidates are from the left (PS) or from the right (UMP). Such an impression may be connected to the fact that the PS, having won the presidential elections, was the front runner for the legislative elections, (ii) but at the same time the noticeable internal variations of voters’ perceptions between candidates from the same party is a good indicator of an irreducible candidate effect (see for example the difference between candidates of the 2501 constituency and the 1701 constituency for the PS and between candidates of the 1309 constituency and the 2301 constituency for the UMP).
31As a multiple correspondence analysis displays only one dimension explaining 67% of the variance, a standardized additive scale has been built up with these 11 items.  For each individual, the Candidate evaluation variable contains the value associated with each candidate on the scale; the higher the value, the more negative the evaluation. For the first round, the evaluation scale for the socialist candidates is based on 16 different candidates (14 for UMP candidates). For the second round, the evaluation scale for the socialist candidates is based on 15 different candidates (13 for UMP candidates). As shown by Figures 2 and 3, socialist candidates are more positively evaluated than the UMP candidates.
Distribution of Candidate evaluation values for PS candidates
Distribution of Candidate evaluation values for PS candidates
Distribution of Candidate evaluation values for UMP candidates
Distribution of Candidate evaluation values for UMP candidates
32A second variable, Modified candidate evaluation, has been built by assigning the mean value (0) of the Candidate evaluation scale to the respondents who did not know the candidate or who were unable to evaluate the candidate. This variable will allow us test the robustness of the candidate evaluation variable on the whole set of respondents. 
33Our dependent variables are dichotomous variables indicating whether or not a respondent voted for a party candidate (yes=1) in the first and in the second round. Here again analyses are limited to candidates from the two main French parties, the leftwing PS and the rightwing UMP party.  In our sample, the socialist candidates were chosen more often than the UMP candidates: respectively, 31.1% of the respondents indicated a vote for the PS  in the first round and 46.8% of them in the second round, and 23.7% of the respondents in the first round and 29.5% of them in the second round for the UMP. 
34The independent variable, which is our main focus, is the respondents’ evaluation of the party candidates. According to our candidate effect theory, voters’ perception of a candidate affects their choice of candidate. So the candidate effect hypothesis is: “As the evaluation of a candidate improves the likelihood of voting for the candidate increases.” In order to test the candidate effect theory empirically, we also included variables controlling for three other theories:
35(1) According to the party identification theory, voters’ party identity determines their choice of a candidate in relation to their party affiliation.
36So the partisan ID hypothesis is: “In parliamentary elections, people vote more often for candidates from parties that match their own party ID.” As a proxy, we use the party ID variable. This is a dichotomous variable indicating whether or not the respondents have the same party ID  as the candidate in question (yes=1). 22% of the respondents indicated that they were close to the UMP, whereas 32% of them felt close to the PS.
37(2) Lewis-Beck underscored that “any explanation of the French voter that relies heavily on just one anchoring variable – be it party or be it ideology – will be theoretically unsound and yield strongly biased estimates”.  So it is relevant to test the hypotheses linked to the ideological dimension. If we take this into account, then the relative ideological positions of voters and parties on the left-right spectrum will affect the likelihood of choosing a candidate.
38Thus the ideology hypothesis is: “The greater the distance between a voter’s ideological position and a party candidate’s ideological position, the lower the likelihood of that voter choosing that party candidate in the parliamentary elections.” The variable Distance has been computed as the absolute value of the difference between the left-right position of the respondent and the left-right position of the party of the candidate in question. The average distance is 2.4 (with a standard deviation of 2.4) from the PS and 3.3 (with a standard deviation of 2.7) from the UMP.
39(3) According to the “presidential honeymoon” hypothesis and the party leader evaluation hypothesis, voters’ evaluations of the French president affect the likelihood of choosing a certain candidate in the parliamentary elections: people vote more often for candidates from the presidential majority in the parliamentary elections when they approve of the president’s performance. The presidential approval variable is a dichotomous variable indicating whether or not the respondent approves of the president’s performance (no=1). 68% of the respondents approved of President Hollande in our survey.
Section 3 – Candidate effect under empirical tests
40We will use logistic regressions  to predict the vote for a party candidate (either UMP or PS) in the first or the second round according to the respondent’s evaluation of the party candidate, the respondent’s party ID, the distance from the party, and approval of the president’s performance.
41Tables 7 and 8 respectively present the results of these analyses for UMP and PS candidates for the first and second round. The reported odds ratios indicate the effect of the independent variable on the dependent variable.
Effect of candidate evaluation on voting behavior for UMP candidates (logistic regression) *,**,***
Effect of candidate evaluation on voting behavior for UMP candidates (logistic regression) *,**,***Odds-ratios are presented;
Effect of candidate evaluation on voting behavior for PS candidates (logistic regression) *,**,***
Effect of candidate evaluation on voting behavior for PS candidates (logistic regression) *,**,***Odds-ratios are presented;
42First we tested the effect of Candidate evaluation in bivariate logistic regressions in Models 1, 6, 11 and 16. In the four models, this independent variable is highly significant and in the expected direction. A standard deviation increase in the Candidate evaluation decreases the odds of voting for a candidate between 96% (for a socialist candidate in the second round) and 90% (for a socialist candidate in the first round). It also has strong explanatory power. Between 75.5 and 85.5% of the cases are correctly predicted and the PseudoR2 has a value between 0.31 and 0.47.
43Second we tested the impact of Candidate evaluation with the three classical variables in multivariate logistic regressions in Models 2, 7, 12 and 17. The models have strong explanatory power: between 85 and 90% of the cases are correctly predicted and the PseudoR2 has a value between 0.49 and 0.61. From this perspective, the multivariate models perform systematically better than the univariate ones. Whatever the party and the round, the odds ratios associated with the respondent’s party ID, are statistically significant and in the expected direction. When respondents have the same party ID as the party candidate, the ratio of the probability of voting for the party candidate over the probability of not voting for the party candidate is 6.5 and 12.9 higher respectively for UMP and socialist candidates in the first round than among the respondents without the same party ID as the party candidate. The odds ratios (respectively 3.6 and 3.3) are less powerful in the second round for both party candidates. This result is consistent with the severely reduced political choice in the second round of the elections. The distance variable is always in the expected direction but is never statistically significant for the PS candidates, whatever the round. When the distance between the respondent and the party increases by 1, the ratio of the likelihood of voting for the candidate over the likelihood of not voting for the candidate decreases by 18% and 30% for the UMP candidates respectively in the first and second round. Finally, Presidential approval is also always in the expected direction even if it is not significant in the model (Model 12) predicting the vote for a socialist candidate in the first round. The effect is particularly robust for UMP candidates: if respondents disapprove of the president’s performance, the odds of voting for a UMP candidate doubles in the first round and quadruples in the second round. Conversely, disapproving of the president’s performance divides the odds of voting for a socialist candidate by around 6 in the second round. The evidence also strongly supports the candidate effect hypothesis. The odds ratios associated with Candidate evaluation are highly significant and in the expected direction for both parties and both rounds. The effect is minimal for socialist candidates in the first round and maximal for the socialist candidates in the second round: when the candidate evaluation is worse by a standard deviation, the odds of voting for a socialist candidate is divided by 6 in the first round and by 20 in the second round. The average marginal effect  of the variables included in Models 2, 7, 12 and 17 confirms the strong impact of candidate evaluation compared to the other variables (Table 9). Whereas being socialist increases the likelihood of voting for a socialist candidate by 28% on average – the strongest party ID effect – a 1 point deterioration in the candidate evaluation scale decreases the likelihood of voting for a socialist candidate by an average of 23%. The effect of this variable is stable for socialist and UMP candidates, and in both rounds. Furthermore, in all models, the average marginal effect of Candidate evaluation does not vary much in relation to whether or not the respondent has the same party ID as the candidate.  All other things being equal, the effect of candidate evaluation on voting behavior is far from marginal.
Average marginal effects (Models 2, 7, 12 and 17)
Average marginal effects (Models 2, 7, 12 and 17)
44A way to assess the value added by candidate evaluation to explain voting behavior is to replicate the models without the candidate evaluation variable (Models 3, 8, 13 and 18) on the same sample of respondents. The PseudoR2 is systematically lower (between 0.1 and 0.19 less) as well as the proportion of correctly predicted cases (around 2% and 5% less respectively for the first round and the second round). The explanatory power of these models is only slightly higher than the univariate models (Models 1, 6, 11 and 16) testing the candidate effect hypothesis.
45As the previous models were tested only on respondents who evaluated the candidates, the robustness of our hypothesis should also be tested on the whole sample of voters. Using the Modified candidate evaluation, we replicated the previous models including the comprehensive set of variables as well as including only the classical variables. In Models 4, 9, 14 and 19, the odds ratio associated with Modified candidate evaluation is systematically highly significant and in the expected direction.  This means that a positive or negative evaluation of the candidates significantly affects the likelihood of voting for them, even in comparison with lack of knowledge of a candidate. In other words, electorally it is really better to be well known than unknown, but also better to be unknown than despised. The odds ratio associated with the classical variables are also in the expected direction and statistically significant. In Models 5, 10, 15 and 20, we replicate the analyses without Modified candidate evaluation. Whatever the party and the round, the odds ratios associated with the respondent’s party ID, the distance from the party, and approval of the president’s performance are statistically significant and in the expected direction. Their values do not significantly differ from those from Models 3, 8, 13 and 18. This is a valuable insight that means that the samples of respondents able to evaluate the candidates are not outliers and our results are robust. Again, this is also a way to assess the value added by candidate evaluation to explain voting behavior. The PseudoR2 is again systematically lower (between 0.07 and 0.11 less) as well as the proportion of correctly predicted cases (between 1.2% and 3.8%).
46Finally, we tested the robustness of our results by running models with fixed effects, including dummy variables first for the clusters  and then for the constituencies themselves. The variables testing the candidate effect are always significant and in the expected direction.  Hence our results do not depend on the specificities of any individual constituency or any cluster of constituencies.
47Thus evidence systematically and strongly supports the candidate effect theory. Variables testing it are always statistically significant and in the expected direction whatever the sample, the candidate, the round and the other variables included.
48Ten years ago, Lewis-Beck concluded that “an interesting question for future research [in France] is whether the conclusion (about party and ideology) will hold for other presidential races, and for legislative races as well”.  Our results show that for legislative races, party and ideology are still strong predictors of voting behavior as well as the presidential honeymoon effect and the party leader effect.
49Nevertheless, beyond partisanship, ideology and the presidential honeymoon effect, we were able to identify a systematic and robust candidate effect. All other things being equal, when the evaluation of a candidate at the 2012 French parliamentary elections improved or worsened, the odds of voting for this candidate increased or decreased. While our results cannot validate or invalidate Loonis’s conclusion that “the role of individual features has declined”, we show that, independent of the political context, although political label, ideology and presidential approval are key factors to being elected, individual features remain crucial (at least for the voters…). Candidate evaluation – positive or negative – merits further research in order to deepen our understanding of it. A further step would also be to analyze the candidate effect for dissenting candidates, which should display an even stronger candidate effect.
50Beyond the analysis of France, our findings show that, even in the unlikely context of French honeymoon parliamentary elections, 1. Voters receive enough information during the campaign to know who the main candidates are and enough cues to evaluate them; 2. Voters’ evaluations (i) encompass multiple aspects of candidates and (ii) allow a classification of the contenders on a negative to positive scale; 3. Constituency candidate evaluations, when appropriately measured, significantly affect electoral choice. As we strongly believe that our study is a stringent test of the (decentralized) personalization hypothesis, the positive results mean that, at least in majoritarian electoral systems, there is a candidate effect in electoral choice. In short, when voters decide, candidates matter!
51Finally, we are just at an early stage of our investigation. If the existence of a candidate effect – voters’ evaluations of the candidates affecting electoral choices – is already a result in itself, it is important to go beyond this finding and to investigate the determinants of voters’ evaluations of candidates.
This study could not have been realized without the financial support of the French Interior Ministry (“Political dynamics 2012” project), the Aquitaine region (“LEG 2012” Project) and the Jean Jaurès Foundation.
“A ticket is split if voter i votes for party j in contest r and votes for party f in some other contest” according to Burden and Helmke in Barry C. Burden and Gretchen Helmke, “The comparative study of split-ticket voting”, Electoral Studies, 28(1), 2009, 1-7.Online
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Guy Michelat, “In search of left and right”, in Boy and Mayer (eds), The French Voter Decides; Christopher J. Fleury and Michael Lewis-Beck, “Anchoring the French voter: ideology versus party”. The Journal of Politics, 55(4), 1993, 1100-9.Online
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Studies of this aspect are very common in the literature, for example in terms of gender (see C. Achin, “Un ‘métier d’hommes’? Les représentations du métier de député à l’épreuve de sa féminisation”, Revue française de science politique, 55(3), 2005, 477-99); occupation (E. Bernick, “Anchoring legislative careers”, Legislative Studies Quarterly, 26(1), 2001, 123-43); or social recruitment (M. Gallagher, “Social backgrounds and local orientations of members of the Irish Dail”, Legislative Studies Quarterly, 10(3), 1985, 373-94).
Blais et al., “Does the local candidate matter?”.
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A. King, “Do leaders’ personalities really matter?”, in King, Leaders’ Personalities and the Outcomes of Democratic Elections, 8.
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The French Fifth Republic has an asymmetrical bicameral parliament, composed of a lower chamber – the National Assembly – and a higher chamber – the Senate. In the case of an ongoing disagreement in the lawmaking process, the government may give the last word to the National Assembly. A. Lijphart, Patterns Of Democracy: Government Forms and Performance in Thirty-Six Countries (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1999).
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Among the few exceptions, see Michael S. Lewis-Beck, “France: the stalled electorate”, in Russel J. Dalton, Scott Flanagan and Allen Paul Beck (eds) Electoral Change in Advanced Industrial Democracies (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1984), 425-48 (446); Converse and Pierce, Political Representation in France; E. Dupoirier and G. Grunberg, La drôle de défaite de la gauche (Paris: PUF, 1986), 231-43; Philippe Habert, Le vote sanction. Les élections législatives des 21 et 28 mars 1993 (Paris: Presses de Sciences Po, 1993); P. Perrineau and C. Ysmal (eds), Le vote surprise: les élections législatives des 25 mai et 1 juin 1997 (Paris: Presses de Sciences Po, 1998).
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Bélanger et al., Le vote des Français de Mitterrand à Sarkozy.
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Haegel, “Partisan ties”. Fleury and Lewis-Beck, “Déjà vu all over again…”.
Michelat, “In search of left and right”; Fleury and Beck, “Anchoring the French voter: ideology versus party”.
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Michael Lewis-Beck and Kevin Chlarson, “Party, ideology, institutions, and the 1995 French presidential election”, British Journal of Political Science, 32(3), 2002, 489-512.
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François Mitterrand, his predecessor, was elected from 1981 until 1988 and again from 1988 until 1995.
The LEG 2012 was funded by the Ministry of the Interior (“dynamique politique 2012”) as well as by the Aquitaine region project LEG 2012 and the Jean Jaurès Foundation.
Converse and Pierce, Political Representation in France; CSES Module 3 – survey France 2007 led by N. Sauger: http://www.cses.org/datacenter/module3/module3.htm.
Ward’s linkage cluster analysis was run under Stata.
Information was extracted from the 1999 census.
Four of these groups were also subdivided by the cluster analysis. We picked two constituencies for each of these eight subgroups and four for the remaining unified group.
Sylvain Brouard, Eric Kerrouche, Elisa Deiss-Helbig, Olivier Costa, Tinette Schnatterer, “From theory to practice: citizens’ attitudes on representation in France”, Journal of Legislative Studies, 19(2), 2013, 178-95.
Sylvain Brouard, Olivier Costa, Eric Kerrouche, Tinette Schnatterer “Why do French MPs focus more on constituency work than on parliamentary work?”, Journal of Legislative Studies, 19(2), 2013, 141-59.
Respectively 2116 and 2269 respondents answered. The difference is significant (p<.000).
The two first digits stand for the number of the département, the two last digits stand for the number of the constituency in the département concerned. For example 6911 means that we are dealing with the 11th constituency of the Rhône département and 1201 means the 1st constituency of the Aveyron département.
The Cronbach alpha for the eleven items is 0.92.
Theoretically there is no incentive for a voter to lean more or less towards an unknown candidate than she does towards a candidate with a balanced evaluation, i. e. neither positive nor negative, and vice versa. Conversely, according to candidate effect theory, when compared to unknown candidates, having a negative perception of a candidate decreases the likelihood of voting for the candidate whereas having a positive perception of a candidate increases the likelihood of voting for the candidate. Empirically, an alternative design in a previous draft of this article showed that mean values of candidate evaluation do not have a significant impact on the likelihood of voting for that candidate compared to unknown candidates.
In each constituency, respondents were asked to indicate their choice among the candidates (with their party labels) that were actually running in their constituency.
In the constituencies under study, socialist candidates received 27.1% of the valid votes at the first round and 40.6% at the second round. Nationally, the socialist candidates received 29.4% of the valid votes at the first round and 40.9% at the second round.
In the constituencies under study, UMP candidates received 25.6% of the valid votes at the first round and 33.2% at the second round. Nationally, UMP candidates received 27.1% of the valid votes at the first round and 38% at the second round.
This variable has been built from the answers to the CSES Module 4 question (with the filters): “Which party do you feel closest to?”.
Lewis-Beck and Chlarson, “Party, ideology, institutions, and the 1995 French presidential election”.
Several variables (gender, age, occupation and education) were also included in the preliminary analyses in order to control for their potential effect. As we do not focus on them, their coefficients were seldom significant, and they do not significantly affect the results, these variables are not presented here.
Linktest shows that the model specifications were relevant.
Linktest shows that the model specifications were relevant.
The mean average marginal effect displays higher effect for all variables and primarily for Candidate evaluation. Nevertheless, as the mean for our two dichotomous variables, the party ID and presidential approval, is meaningless, it is more relevant to use the average marginal effect.
We computed the average marginal effect at party ID = 0 and party ID = 1 for candidate evaluation.
Assigning the mean value (0) of the Candidate evaluation scale to the respondents who do not know the candidate or are not able to evaluate the candidate in the Modified candidate evaluation variable does not substantially affect the magnitude of the effect of the variables.
We also ran logistic regression including dummies for 9 clusters with the same results.
The results are not presented in this article. They may be communicated upon request to the authors.
Lewis-Beck, Michael S. et al. (2002), “Party, ideology, institutions…”.