Do physically attractive candidates really get more votes than their less appealing opponents? We’re loathe to admit that this is too often the case in other walks of life – getting a job, for example. Biases like this aren’t usually discussed because Western societies, for the most part, have levied a quasi-legal taboo against them, but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist.
This article in Science NOW discusses research on the subject that indicates, in the words of the article’s title, the right looks often do trump the right stuff – at least this seems true for female candidates. From the article:
Male and female voters tended to like the same traits. Perceived competence predicted wins by both male and female candidates. But for female candidates, attractiveness was an even more important predictor of success. Good looks were not a significant factor for men, the researchers report this week in PLoS ONE. The biggest difference between male and female voters was in how much they valued approachability. For male candidates, perceived approachability had a significant impact on how likely female but not male voters were to cast ballots in their favor.
Chiao says the results indicate that the “halo effect,” the idea that prettier people may be judged as more capable or having other positive traits, only applies to female politicians: “It reveals a gender bias and the importance of attractiveness for female candidates to succeed in elections.”
This may help explain why a candidate like Sarah Palin, who lacks substance but is generally considered attractive, initially gained traction with the electorate. But the effect lacked longevity. When the veneer started chipping off and falling away, her approval rating followed suit. This may suggest that good looks play more a role in attracting positive attention than they do in sustaining it.
For more insight into the halo effect, check here.