It’s Better to Look Conservative Than Look Presidential

A candidate’s appearance is one of the most covered aspects of any political campaign. (To be more specific, it ranks #2, right behind “candidate’s religion” and eight spots ahead of “original policy proposals.”) Like most things that receive a lot of political coverage, stories about looks don’t tell us anything useful. All we get is 25 reporters say ing that Mitt Romney “looks presidential” and “could” get some unquantifiable boost from it.

Fortunately, the hackneyed soft news cycle of candidate appearance stories couldn’t keep science away for long. According to a new study what matters about a candidate’s looks depends on the voting public. In a blue state it doesn’t matter what you look like, but in a red state it’s beneficial to look more “Republican” regardless of whether you’re a Democrat or a Republican.

Across two studies, the authors show that U.S. candidates facing conservative electorates benefit from looking more stereotypically Republican than their rivals (controlling for gender, ethnicity, and age). In contrast, no relationship between political facial stereotypes and voting is found for liberal electorates (using identical controls).

Because the researchers determined who looked more Republican by simply asking subjects to pick which of two candidates looked more Republican, there are no findings about what looking more Republican actually entails. My advice to aspiring GOP presidential candidates is to just take the next step and wear a Reagan mask during all public appearances.
Olivola, C., Sussman, A., Tsetsos, K., Kang, O., & Todorov, A. (2012). Republicans Prefer Republican-Looking Leaders: Political Facial Stereotypes Predict Candidate Electoral Success Among Right-Leaning Voters Social Psychological and Personality Science DOI: 10.1177/1948550611432770

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