Face Value? Experimental Evidence that Candidate Appearance Influences Electoral Choice
- 1k Downloads
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.
KeywordsElections Candidate appearance Congressional elections Primary elections Heuristics
We thank Luke Edwards, Aaron Kaufman, Aidan McCarthy, Tony Valeriano, and Kelsey White for research assistance and students in the fall 2012 Presidential Elections and Democratic Accountability class for help collecting candidate photos and candidate knowledge questions. We are also grateful for comments from David Doherty, Laura Stoker, conference participants at the 2013 Midwest Political Science Association Annual Meeting and the 2013 West Coast Experiments Conference at Stanford University, and research workshop participants at both the University of California, Berkeley and the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. Finally, we thank the Institute of Governmental Studies at the University of California, Berkeley for funding. Replication code and data is available from https://dataverse.harvard.edu/dataverse/facevalue.
Compliance with Ethical Standards
Human Rights and Informed Consent
The studies were approved by the Committee for the Protection of Human Subjects (CPHS) at the University of California, Berkeley. All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of CPHS and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.
- Alley, T. R. (1988). Social and applied aspects of perceiving faces, resources for ecological psychology. Hillsdale, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.Google Scholar
- Angrist, J. D., & Pischke, J.-S. (2009). Mostly harmless econometrics: An empiricist’s companion. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
- Campbell, A., Converse, P. E., Miller, W. E., & Stokes, D. E. (1960). The American voter. Chicago: University Of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
- Cohen, R. (1973). Patterns of personality judgment. New York, NY: Academic Press.Google Scholar
- Converse, P. E. (1964). The nature of belief systems in mass publics. In D. E. Apter (Ed.), Ideology and discontent. New York: Free Press.Google Scholar
- Delli Carpini, M. X., & Keeter, S. (1996). What Americans know about politics and why it matters. New Haven: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
- Fiorina, M. P. (1981). Retrospective voting in American national elections. New Haven: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
- Hall, C. C., Goren, A., Chaiken, S., & Todorov, A. (2009). Shallow cues with deep effects: Trait judgments from faces and voting decisions. In E. Borgida, C. M. Federico, & J. L. Sullivan (Eds.), Political psychology of democratic citizenship (pp. 73–99). Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Hamermesh, D. S. (2011). Beauty pays: Why attractive people are more successful. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
- Krasno, J. S. (1997). Challengers, competition, and reelection: Comparing senate and house elections. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
- Laskas, J. M. (2012). Bob dole: Great American. GQ(July), 54, 88–90.Google Scholar
- Lupia, A., & McCubbins, M. D. (1998). The democratic dilemma: Can citizens learn what they really need to know?. New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
- Nelson, C. M. (2012). In denver, clinton says romney plan ‘doesn’t add up. Wall Street Journal Blog. Accessed April 2013. http://blogs.wsj.com/washwire/2012/10/31/in-denver-clinton-says-romney-plan-doesnt-add-up.
- Popkin, S. L. (1991). The reasoning voter: Communication and persuasion in presidential campaigns. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
- Ravina, E. (2012). Love & loans: The effect of beauty and personal characteristics in credit markets. Available at SSRN 1101647.Google Scholar
- Rosar, U., Klein, M., & Beckers, T. (2008). The frog pond beauty contest: Physical attractiveness and electoral success of the constituency candidates at the North Rhine-Westphalia state election 2005. European Journal of Political Research, 47(1), 64–79.Google Scholar
- Zebrowitz, L. A. (1997). Reading faces. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.Google Scholar