Political Behavior

, Volume 13, Issue 4, pp 345-367

First online:

Creating a political image: Shaping appearance and manipulating the vote

  • Shawn W. RosenbergAffiliated withGraduate Concentration in Political Psychology, School of Social Sciences, University of California
  • , Shulamit KahnAffiliated withGraduate School of Business, Boston University
  • , Thuy TranAffiliated withUniversity of California

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The key question addressed is whether political consultants can shape a candidate's appearance in such a way as to influence voters' preferences. To explore this question, an attempt was made to discover the components of a favorable political image and then use that information to manipulate voters' preferences. Photographs of over 200 women were analyzed and the features of the women's appearance which affected the quality of the image projected were isolated. Using this information, a make-up artist and photographer were employed to shape the appearance of six women. Photographs of the women were then placed on campaign flyers along with information on the women's political party affiliation and their position on several key issues. Pairs of flyers were used to create mock elections. The result of these elections suggest that it is possible to shape a political candidate's image in a way which may effect electoral outcomes. The implications of this for electoral politics are discussed.