The impact of physical attractiveness on voting behaviour is not a subject the oh-so-serious commentators like to take seriously.
The tut tutting that’s followed people writing about ears in this election campaign — the size of Julia’s lobes and just the enormous size of Tony’s — is proof of that.
Yet all the evidence available on the subject suggests good looking people tend to beat ugly ones. So Julia Gillard’s wonderful picture spread in the Women’s Weekly is likely to have more impact on this election result than those pictures of a stripped Tony Abbott parading on the beach.
The contrast between her beautifully styled red hair and his considerable body hair makes it a no contest.
Now before I am condemned by outraged readers for being flippant, sexist or something even worse, I present to you the latest research on this important subject in the form of an advance copy of a papersoon to be published in that most reputable of academic journals,World Politics.
MIT News reports the appearances of politicians do indeed strongly influence voters — and that people around the world have similar ideas about what a good politician looks like. While few political observers would be surprised to learn that good looks earn votes, the MIT researchers have quantified a phenomenon more often assumed to be true than rigorously measured.
“Ever since Aristotle, people have written about the concern that charismatic leaders who speak well and look good can sway votes even if they do not share the people’s views,” acknowledges Gabriel Lenz, an associate professor in the Department of Political Science at MIT, and a co-author of the study.
The paper is an “interesting and innovative study” writes Panu Poutvaara, an economist at the University of Helsinki who also studies the influences of candidate appearances, responding to questions by email. In Poutvaara’s view, by helping to confirm the general connection between good looks and ballot-box success, the study paves the way for future research that should address precisely why voters favour good-looking candidates: “Is it because voters either enjoy watching good-looking politicians on TV, or think that they are better in social interactions?”
Lenz and his colleagues are addressing this question from a slightly different angle in additional, ongoing research. In a forthcoming study, they find that “low-information voters” are especially likely to choose candidates based on looks. “These are people who don’t know much about politics, but watch a lot of TV,” says Lenz. The researchers are currently writing a paper based on this latter project.
In the interests of furthering the research into this important subject I have sought the help of Crikey (the ones who actually pay me to write these little notes about politics) and their readers.
We have chosen candidates in eight seats to be contested in Australia on August 21 and on Crikey's special Politicians: Hot or Not?survey page we ask you to select the winner based on nothing else but the photos of the candidates from the two major parties.