And despite politicians' pleas that this general election should be based on substance rather than style, it appears that the latter is what the British public wants, rating charisma and honesty above competence.
In a survey of nearly 700 people in Britain, the United States and Canada about their reactions to national and international politicians as well as public figures, the singer Madonna and Baroness Thatcher come across as the strongest personalities.
The researchers told the society's annual conference in Edinburgh that personality was increasingly important in how voters made up their minds.
The survey, carried out in late 1993, asked students in the three countries which of a list of 40 characteristics they associated with domestic leaders, world leaders and public figures. These 40 traits were arranged into four groups - charisma, integrity, competence and strength.
Asked to rate which quality was the most important all three countries named integrity as most essential. But whereas Canadians wanted to their politicians to be competent, the British valued charisma more. The US rated both equally.
Looking at their own political figures, the British said Lady Thatcher was more charismatic than Mr Major and the late Labour leader John Smith more competent and stronger than either - but also less honest, according to Mark Pancer, Professor of Psychology at Wilfrid Laurier University, Ontario.
He added that the researchers had also asked the participants to rate how warmly they felt towards a politician, where a score of 50 to 100 was favourable and below 50 feelings became cooler. The British were not keen on any of their politicians. Mr Smith did best, with 44, while Lady Thatcher was the least favoured on 36. Boris Yeltsin, the Russian leader, scored 49 and Bill Clinton, the US president, 46.
On the charisma index, Mr Major scored 2.31 - lower than all the Canadians and Prince Charles on 2.67 and Dan Quayle on 2.83. Globally, Mr Clinton was seen as most charismatic and also did well on integrity. In no country was strength in a politician judged particularly positively, Professor Pancer said, suggesting that the aggression typified by Lady Thatcher's premiership had changed in favour of consensus politics.
He said that the results showed that personality was playing an ever- more important role and the message for today's leaders was to stress their own integrity. Personality traits were easier to grasp than complex policies and the way sleaze had dominated this general election campaign proved that, he said.
"Sleaze and smears are still dominant in the news," he said. "Sleaze is a sign that personalities are influencing people more than before."Reuse content