Do Elections Keep the Compassionate out of the Candidate Pool?

  • Clifford S
  • Simas E
  • Kirkland J
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Political candidates must possess not only a desire for a position in government, but also a tolerance for the electoral process typically required to attain it. Recent works suggest that this latter requirement may keep certain types of people out of the potential candidate pool. We contend that individuals high in empathic concern are one such type. While compassion for others may make certain aspects of public service attractive, it should also make some of the more negative features of political campaigns repellant. We find support for this theory among two national samples. Those higher in empathic concern were more likely to express nascent ambition when considering a political position that was appointed rather than elected. This work further illustrates how exploring the interaction of psychological dispositions and political institutions can contribute to our understanding of the behavior of politicians and the quality of representation.




Clifford, S., Simas, E. N., & Kirkland, J. H. (2021). Do Elections Keep the Compassionate out of the Candidate Pool? Public Opinion Quarterly, 85(2), 649–662.

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