Decades of research has found that voters’ electoral decisions to a significant degree are affected by character evaluations of candidates. Yet it remains unresolved which specific candidate traits voters find most important. In political science it is often argued that competence-related traits are most influential, whereas work in social psychology suggests that warmth-related traits are more influential. Here we test which character trait is the more influential in global candidate evaluations and vote choice using observational data from the ANES 1984–2008 and an original experiment conducted on a representative sample of English partisan respondents. Across the two studies we find that warmth is more influential than competence, leadership and integrity. Importantly, results hold across a wide range of alternative specifications and robustness analyses. We conclude by discussing theoretical and practical implications of the results.