Keywords: Elections; Leader effect; Party identification; Personalization of politics; Voting behavior.
Previous studies have portrayed the personalization of politics as a consequence of the changes in the electoral market and the resulting transformations at the party level. However, empirical research has not reached a consensus on whether this process has actually exerted an impact on citizens' voting calculus. Long-term feelings of partisan attachment appear still central in voters' behavior, whereas party leader evaluations seem to play only a marginal role. This paper tries to examine the electoral consequences of the personalization of politics employing an alternative approach. In particular, we hypothesize that leader evaluations have become the key determinants of partisan ties at the individual level. We focus on the Italian case, a prototype of personalized parliamentary democracy. In the empirical section, we examine the ways in which leaders have influenced Italian voters' behavior in the last two decades. The results show that the electoral effect of party leaders (once the mediating effect of partisanship is taken into account) has steadily increased during the period under analysis.