How candidate characteristics matter: Candidate profiles, political sophistication, and vote choice

Hilde Coffé, Åsa von Schoultz

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Our study examines the influence of various candidate characteristics (sociodemographic profile, competence and experience, issue positions, and party affiliation) on voters’ preference for a candidate, and investigates the impact of voters’ levels of political sophistication on their likelihood of considering various candidate characteristics voters when deciding whom to support. Using data from the 2015 Finnish National Election Study, this study is situated within the complex Finnish open list system with many candidates at display and mandatory preference voting. We find that voters mostly argue to make their choice based on candidate characteristics with direct politically relevant information such as candidate party affiliation and issue positions. Candidate sociodemographic profile has relatively little stated impact. Overall, voters with higher levels of political sophistication tend to be more likely to consider a broad range of candidate characteristics. When investigating the relative impact of each candidate characteristic (that is, their impact relative to the other candidate characteristics) on voting behaviour, political sophistication increases the likelihood of saying to rely on candidate characteristics that are more demanding in terms of information processing such as competence and experience, and issue positions. Our analyses also show how different measures of political sophistication have distinct effects.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)137-155
Issue number2
Early online date1 Jun 2020
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2021


  • candidate characteristics
  • Finland
  • political sophistication
  • vote choice

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Political Science and International Relations


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