Prime-ministerial power, personality and leadership : comparing Westminsters

  • Ian Fitzgerald

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    An important Political Science debate concerns how individual political leaders in different contexts and circumstances affect election outcomes. The particular focus in this study is whether Prime Ministers who won one election were able to stay in power and win a second term, and why. Four psychological assessment tools are used that cover leadership styles, motives, political beliefs and personality traits. The tools were developed with funding from the US Government and are used to assess world leaders for a range of purposes, including to anticipate foreign policy responses. Words are the data, which for this study were obtained from Prime Ministers’ answers to Opposition Leaders’ questions without notice in Parliament. Leadership profiles using 36 measures (Appendix A) were created for 12 Australian and British Prime Ministers who served after 1970. Statistical analysis shows significant differences between one-term and multiple-term Prime Ministers – principally in terms of the degree to which they project power in this parliamentary forum. Interviews were conducted with political scientists and others with personal knowledge of the Prime Ministers to test the face validity of psychological scores and build a knowledge base. The combined quantitative and qualitative information is used to illustrate similarities and differences between subjects. The method involves a novel, but standardised, way of assessing and comparing political leaders in relation to each other and international benchmarks. Findings confirm the worth of this approach to examine Prime-Ministerial power, personalities, and leadership, particularly when interpreted using secondary sources. Among other potential applications, the method could be used to provide feedback to current and aspiring political leaders about how they present themselves to the world on a range of measures, as well as to inform choices about who to select for leadership roles based on attributes the party and public prefer. I argue we should spend more time thinking and talking about the character and competence of those who seek to lead us, and how they might behave in power, and do this in an evidence-based way. The limitations of the research and suggested ideas for future studies are discussed.
    Date of Award2022
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorMark Evans (Supervisor) & Gerry Stoker (Supervisor)

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