Looking like a Republican, even for Democrats, helps candidates in conservative regions win, according to two groundbreaking surveys of American voters.

"Candidates running in right-leaning states or facing conservative voters seem to benefit from possessing facial features that make them look more stereotypically Republican than their rivals," said the study authors in the authoritative publication Social Psychological and Personality Science.

Just what a stereotypical Republican looks like the authors didn't suggest. Instead, they left it to survey participants to decide, though one of the pictures offered was of former GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum, known for his conservative style--and sweater vests.

"Our results show that people seem to agree that some candidates look more stereotypically Republican than their rivals, even some Democrats," co-author Christopher Olivola told Secrets. Thus, he said, looking Republican can help a Democrat running in a conservative state or district.

The surveys also looked at what drives Democratic and Republican voters when it comes to candidates. They found Republicans were influenced by facial appearances. Democrats were influenced more by gender and minority status.

The authors suggested that the findings have "clear and serious implications" for elections because looks may be more important than issues. "Our results thus suggest that the impact of appearance-based inferences is more robust than previously thought," the authors said. "People vote not just according to party affiliation, but also according to the political attitudes that candidates seem to convey through their facial appearances."