Newsflash: In Elections, Looks Matter

Before you step in the booth, learn how a candidate’s face can affect the way you cast your vote.

| October 24th, 2012
Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Romney and Obama at the debate

Good-Looking Guys Can Change Your Mind
The Presidential elections should be about substance not style, right? Wouldn’t that be swell. Political scientists at the University of Illinois studied how people responded to attractive and unattractive candidates and found that studly Republicans could get liberals to swing right, and vice versa. Part of the problem? Voters dismissed less attractive candidates as “unelectable,” even if they fundamentally agreed with their positions.
More for you: Do Attractive People Get Preferential Treatment?

In Times of Trouble, Beauty is a Weapon…
Decades of social-psych research has revealed that there are a lot of benefits to being the better-looking guy on the ballot. Voters favor attractive candidates, rate them more positively and tend to think of them as more confident leaders. A study published this month by a group of British researchers found that people are more likely to vote for handsome or trustworthy-looking candidates. But their preferences differed depending on the state of the world. In wartime, the attractive choice won out, whereas peacetime picks were those who seemed more trustworthy. It could be that attractiveness signals health and virility, which are valuable in the face of aggression, while a “pro-social” trait like being trustworthy is a desirable luxury when the situation’s copacetic.
More for you: The Science of First Impressions

…And Old Wins Against Young
Age also comes into play when deciding between candidates while the country’s embroiled in conflict. Somewhat surprisingly, a recent paper in the journal PLOS ONE showed that in wartime scenarios, people were more apt to cast their votes for an older man than a younger one. (Face it, we only see men in Presidential races.) Biological science would suggest that a younger man is the more dominant choice, since testosterone decreases with age. The researchers hypothesize that we have come to regard older men as experienced leaders who have earned their status—and therefore our votes.
More for you: Happiness Comes With Age 

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