Political

Good looks, being right wing and winning more votes: what the political research says

Welcome to the latest in my occasional series highlighting interesting findings from academic research. Today – a report in the Sydney Morning Herald on how looks can alter votes:

A new study published in the Journal of Public Economics has found the attractiveness of political candidates correlates with political views, and that in Europe, the United States and Australia it’s the conservative politicians who are better looking…

The study’s authors used rankings conducted by Dr Leigh and Dr King on the appearance of 280 candidates from the 2004 Australian federal election, as well as evaluations of the attractiveness of candidates in local Finnish elections, in Senate and gubernatorial races in the US and for seats in the European Parliament.

The scale rated politicians from very unattractive to very handsome or beautiful, awarding points for each status.

Why might politicians be more likely to be right wing if they are good looking? This research suggests it’s to do with those politicians mistaking their own good fortune for the wider state of society:

Using new research and a 2009 paper by federal Labor MP Andrew Leigh and Australian National University senior lecturer Amy King, the study suggests explanations for the hot or not trend, including that good looking people receive better treatment than other people in society and therefore see the world as more just.

As for voters, they are more likely to vote for more attractive candidates – but this has a bigger impact on the right than on the left:

The earlier Australian study found a strong positive relationship between beauty assessments and share of the vote received by candidates, worth as much as a 1.4 percentage point increase, more than the margin of one in 10 seats in federal elections between 1996 and 2004.

In American elections where voters have low levels of information about their local candidates, Republicans were found to care more about appearance than Democrats, but election races with good television and newspaper coverage saw physical appearance matter equally across the political divide.

The study suggests beauty could attract about 20 per cent more votes for average candidates on the right in low-information elections, compared with about 8 per cent more votes for an average candidate on the left.

High-information elections see bumps of about 14 per cent for candidates on both the left and right.

Ah, humanity.

You can read the other posts in the Evidence-based campaigning: what the academic research says series here.

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