Does the Messenger Matter? The Role of Charisma in Public Leadership Academic Article uri icon


  • Charisma is one of the most common explanations for the success of political leaders in obtaining the support of the mass public. Yet authors employing the concept typically begin their analyses by simply assuming the presence of charisma, foregoing more rigorous analyses, including the consideration of alternative explanations for public appeal. Thus, charisma becomes a post hoc attribution, a residual category of explanation that is difficult to evaluate objectively. This article examines the concept of charisma in the context of the American presidency by testing for its consequences, including presidents obtaining unusually high levels of support, support from unusual sources, or especially intense and committed support, or successfully leading public opinion on matters of public policy. I particularly focus on the best-case tests of John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan. Unable to find systematic evidence of some special form of leadership that we might characterize as "charismatic," I conclude that the concept of charisma is neither salvageable analytically nor helpful empirically. 2002 Taylor & Francis Group, LLC.

published proceedings

  • Congress & the Presidency

author list (cited authors)

  • Edwards, G. C.

citation count

  • 5

complete list of authors

  • Edwards, George C

publication date

  • January 2002