Political Behavior

, Volume 39, Issue 1, pp 77–102

Face Value? Experimental Evidence that Candidate Appearance Influences Electoral Choice

  • Douglas J. Ahler
  • Jack Citrin
  • Michael C. Dougal
  • Gabriel S. Lenz
Original Paper

DOI: 10.1007/s11109-016-9348-6

Cite this article as:
Ahler, D.J., Citrin, J., Dougal, M.C. et al. Polit Behav (2017) 39: 77. doi:10.1007/s11109-016-9348-6

Abstract

According to numerous studies, candidates’ looks predict voters’ choices—a finding that raises concerns about voter competence and about the quality of elected officials. This potentially worrisome finding, however, is observational and therefore vulnerable to alternative explanations. To better test the appearance effect, we conducted two experiments. Just before primary and general elections for various offices, we randomly assigned voters to receive ballots with and without candidate photos. Simply showing voters these pictures increased the vote for appearance-advantaged candidates. Experimental evidence therefore supports the view that candidates’ looks could influence some voters. In general elections, we find that high-knowledge voters appear immune to this influence, while low-knowledge voters use appearance as a low-information heuristic. In primaries, however, candidate appearance influences even high-knowledge and strongly partisan voters.

Keywords

Elections Candidate appearance Congressional elections Primary elections Heuristics 

Supplementary material

11109_2016_9348_MOESM1_ESM.docx (1.3 mb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 1331 kb)

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Douglas J. Ahler
    • 1
  • Jack Citrin
    • 1
  • Michael C. Dougal
    • 1
  • Gabriel S. Lenz
    • 1
  1. 1.Charles and Louise Travers Department of Political ScienceUniversity of California, BerkeleyBerkeleyUSA