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

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)

References

  1. Ahler, D. J., Citrin, J., & Lenz, G. S. (2016). Do open primaries improve representation? An experimental test of california’s 2012 top-two primary. Legislative Studies Quarterly, 41(2), 237–268.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Ai, C., & Norton, E. C. (2003). Interaction terms in logit and probit models. Economics Letters, 80(1), 123–129.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Alley, T. R. (1988). Social and applied aspects of perceiving faces, resources for ecological psychology. Hillsdale, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.Google Scholar
  4. Andreoni, J., & Petrie, R. (2008). Beauty, gender and stereotypes: Evidence from laboratory experiments. Journal of Economic Psychology, 29(1), 73–93.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Angrist, J. D., & Pischke, J.-S. (2009). Mostly harmless econometrics: An empiricist’s companion. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  6. Antonakis, J., & Dalgas, O. (2009). Predicting elections: Child’s play! Science, 323(5918), 1183.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Atkinson, M. D., Enos, R. D., & Hill, S. J. (2009). Candidate faces and election outcomes. Quarterly Journal of Political Science, 4(3), 229–249.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Ballew, C. C, I. I., & Todorov, A. (2007). Predicting Political Elections from rapid and unreflective face judgments. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 104(46), 17948–17953.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Banducci, S. A., Karp, J. A., Thrasher, M., & Rallings, C. (2008). Ballot photographs as cues in low-information elections. Political Psychology, 29(6), 903–917.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Bar, M., Neta, M., & Linz, H. (2006). Very first impressions. Emotion, 6(2), 269–278.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Belot, M., Bhaskar, V., & Van De Ven, J. (2012). Beauty and the sources of discrimination. Journal of Human Resources, 47(3), 851–872.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Benjamin, D. J., & Shapiro, J. M. (2009). Thin-slice forecasts of gubernatorial elections. The Review of Economics and Statistics, 91(3), 523–536.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Berggren, N., Jordahl, H., & Poutvaara, P. (2010). The looks of a winner: Beauty and electoral success. Journal of Public Economics, 94(1–2), 8–15.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Brusattin, L. (2012). Candidate visual appearance as a shortcut for both sophisticated and unsophisticated voters: Evidence from a Spanish online study. International Journal of Public Opinion Research, 24(1), 1–20.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Campbell, A., Converse, P. E., Miller, W. E., & Stokes, D. E. (1960). The American voter. Chicago: University Of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  16. Chiao, J. Y., Bowman, N. E., & Gill, H. (2008). The political gender gap: Gender bias in facial inferences that predict voting behavior. PLoS ONE, 3(10), e3666.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Cohen, R. (1973). Patterns of personality judgment. New York, NY: Academic Press.Google Scholar
  18. 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
  19. Delli Carpini, M. X., & Keeter, S. (1996). What Americans know about politics and why it matters. New Haven: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
  20. Fiorina, M. P. (1981). Retrospective voting in American national elections. New Haven: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
  21. Fletcher, J. M. (2009). Beauty vs. brains: Early labor market outcomes of high school graduates. Economics Letters, 105(3), 321–325.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. 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
  23. Hamermesh, D. S. (2006). Changing looks and changing “discrimination”: The beauty of economists. Economics Letters, 93(3), 405–412.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Hamermesh, D. S. (2011). Beauty pays: Why attractive people are more successful. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  25. Hamermesh, D. S., & Parker, A. (2005). Beauty in the classroom: Instructors’ pulchritude and putative pedagogical productivity. Economics of Education Review, 24(4), 369–376.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Hassin, R., & Trope, Y. (2000). Facing faces: Studies on the cognitive aspects of physiognomy. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 78(5), 837–852.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Johns, R., & Shephard, M. (2007). Gender, candidate image and electoral preference. British Journal of Politics and International Relations, 9(3), 434–460.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Kalick, S. M., Zebrowitz, L. A., Langlois, J. H., & Johnson, R. M. (1998). Does human facial attractiveness honestly advertise health? Longitudinal data on an evolutionary question. Psychological Science, 9(1), 8–13.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Key, V. O. (1966). The responsible electorate: Rationality in presidential voting, 19361960. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. King, G. (1991). “Truth” is stranger than prediction, more questionable than causal inference. American Journal of Political Science, 35(4), 1047–1053.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. King, A., & Leigh, A. (2009). Beautiful politicians. Kyklos, 62(4), 579–593.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Klein, M., & Rosar, U. (2005). Physische Attraktivität Und Wahlerfolg. Eine Empirische Analyse Am Beispiel Der Wahlkreiskandidaten Bei Der Bundestagswahl 2002. Politische Vierteljahresschrift, 46(2), 263–287.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Krasno, J. S. (1997). Challengers, competition, and reelection: Comparing senate and house elections. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
  34. Kuklinski, J. H., & Quirk, P. J. (2000). Reconsidering the rational public. In A. Lupia & M. D. McCubbins (Eds.), Elements of reason: Cognition, choice, and the bounds of rationality (pp. 153–182). New York: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Laskas, J. M. (2012). Bob dole: Great American. GQ(July), 54, 88–90.Google Scholar
  36. Lawson, C., Lenz, G. S., Myers, M., & Baker, A. (2010). Looking like a winner: Candidate appearance and electoral success in new democracies. World Politics, 62(4), 561–593.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Lenz, G. S. (2012). Follow the leader? How voters respond to politicians’ policies and performance. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Lenz, G. S., & Lawson, C. (2011). Looking the part: Television leads less informed citizens to vote based on candidates’ appearance. American Journal of Political Science, 55(3), 574–589.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Lupia, A. (1994). Shortcuts versus encyclopedias: information and voting behavior in California insurance reform elections. American Political Science Review, 88(1), 63–76.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. 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
  41. Martin, D. S. (1978). Person perception and real-life electoral behaviour. Australian Journal of Psychology, 30(3), 255–262.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Mattes, K., Spezio, M., Kim, H., Todorov, A., Adolphs, R., & Alvarez, R. M. (2010). Predicting election outcomes from positive and negative trait assessments of candidate images. Political Psychology, 31(1), 41–58.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. 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.
  44. Olivola, C. Y., & Todorov, A. (2010). Elected in 100 Milliseconds: Appearance-based trait inferences and voting. Journal of Nonverbal Behavior, 34(2), 83–110.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Popkin, S. L. (1991). The reasoning voter: Communication and persuasion in presidential campaigns. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  46. Poutvaara, P., Jordahl, H., & Berggren, N. (2009). Faces of politicians: Babyfacedness predicts inferred competence but not electoral success. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 45(5), 1132–1135.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Ravina, E. (2012). Love & loans: The effect of beauty and personal characteristics in credit markets. Available at SSRN 1101647.Google Scholar
  48. Riggio, H. R., & Riggio, R. E. (2010). Appearance-based trait inferences and voting: Evolutionary roots and implications for leadership. Journal of Nonverbal Behavior, 34(2), 119–125.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. 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
  50. Rosenberg, S. W., & McCafferty, P. (1987). The image and the vote: Manipulating voters’ preferences. Public Opinion Quarterly, 51(1), 31–47.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Schaffner, B. F., & Streb, M. J. (2002). The partisan heuristic in low-information elections. Public Opinion Quarterly, 66(4), 559–581.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Spezio, M. L., Loesch, L., Gosselin, F., Mattes, K., & Alvarez, R. M. (2012). Thin-slice decisions do not need faces to be predictive of election outcomes. Political Psychology, 33(3), 331–341.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Spezio, M. L., Rangel, A., Alvarez, R. M., O’Doherty, J. P., Mattes, K., Todorov, A., et al. (2008). A neural basis for the effect of candidate appearance on election outcomes. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 3(4), 344–352.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Todorov, A., Mandisodza, A. N., Goren, A., & Hall, C. C. (2005). Inferences of competence from faces predict election outcomes. Science, 308(5728), 1623–1626.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Waismel-Manor, I., & Tsfati, Y. (2011). Why do better-looking members of congress receive more television coverage? Political Communication, 28(4), 440–463.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Wilson, R. K., & Eckel, C. C. (2006). Judging a book by its cover: Beauty and expectations in the trust game. Political Research Quarterly, 59(2), 189–202.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Zebrowitz, L. A. (1997). Reading faces. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.Google Scholar
  58. Zebrowitz, L. A., Hall, J. A., Murphy, N. A., & Rhodes, G. (2002). Looking smart and looking good. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 28(2), 238–249.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

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

Personalised recommendations