What does it mean to have a presidential image? A multiple-group confirmatory factor analysis measuring Trump and Biden in 2020.

Abstract: U.S. presidential candidates aspire to have a “presidential image.” Political communication researchers, media pundits, political scientists, pollsters, campaign consultants, and other political marketers speculate about who is “presidential” and “unpresidential.” No prior research, however, has empirically measured and validated a presidential image construct. Based on data collected prior to the 2020 U.S. presidential election (N = 618 registered likely voters), we tested congeneric models of presidentiality. Results indicated (1) a six-item, single-factor model fit well when single group confirmatory factor analyses (CFA) were performed separately on ratings of Donald Trump (Study 1) and Joe Biden (Study 2), (2) multiple-group CFA indicated configural and metric invariance (generalizability across candidates) of the model, and (3) presidential image factor scores were strongly associated with the candidate participants planned to vote for in the election. The resultant indicators also advance theorizing that a U.S. president is expected to serve as both “head of state” through components of personability and as “head of government” through components of capability. Theoretical implications for political marketing are discussed.