Decomposing the Relationship Between Candidates’ Facial Appearance and Electoral Success
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Numerous studies show that candidates’ facial competence predicts electoral success. However, a handful of other studies suggest that candidates’ attractiveness is a stronger predictor of electoral success than facial competence. Furthermore, the overall relationship between inferences from candidates’ faces and electoral success is challenged in two ways: (i) non-facial factors in candidate photos such as clothing and hair style as well as (ii) parties’ nomination strategies are suggested as potential confounds. This study is based on original data about all 268 candidates running in three local elections in 2009 in Denmark and supports a two-component structure of the relationship between candidates’ facial appearance and their electoral success. Facial competence is found to mediate a positive relationship between candidates’ attractiveness and electoral success, but simultaneously facial competence also predicts electoral success over and above what can be accounted for by attractiveness. Importantly these relationships are found when seven different non-facial factors, parties’ nomination strategies and candidates’ age and gender are controlled for. This suggests that the two-component structure of the relationship between candidates’ facial appearance and electoral success is highly robust.
KeywordsFacial competence and attractiveness Visual cues Campaign photos Voting behavior
I would like to thank Karl Kjær Bang, Martin Bisgaard Christiansen, Shanto Iyengar, Anne Plougmann Knudsen, Ole Laustsen, Tor Falkesgaard Mortensen, Nicolai Ottosen, Michael Bang Petersen, Morten Pettersson, Rune Slothuus, participants in the research section on comparative politics at Department of Political Science and Government, Aarhus University, the editors and three anonymous reviewers for their help, comments and advice on earlier versions of this article.
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