House candidates with that Ralph Lauren look gain a “beauty premium” of up to 10 percent in races against more pedestrian-looking challengers, the latest sign the nation’s knowledge or concern for politics is just skin deep, according to a new elections study.
The scholarly report in the prestigious journal American Politics Research and provided to Secrets concluded that “an extremely attractive candidate running against an extremely unattractive candidate can expect to obtain an electoral ‘beauty premium’ of more than 7 percent of the vote.”
“This number alone would be enough to decide most marginal races,” the study said, later adding that the premium could reach 10 percent.
The study from the University of Ottawa of the 2008 House races sneered that American voters are lazy and fickle. The authors said American voters don’t do much research before jumping into the polling booth to make their choice other than sizing up candidates based on their looks.
They also found that voter focus on beauty as a deciding factor for picking candidates has a big limitation. It only works when the candidates are of the same sex.
When the candidates are opposing sexes, voters still base their decision on looks, but instead of beauty they look for indications of competence. But the results are the same, with the candidate perceived as looking more competent getting an edge.
“Voters tend to be easily influenced by good-looking candidates,” said the study. Beauty, it said, is an “easy way out strategy for uninformed voters” sizing up same-sex candidates. When the sexes are different, the study concluded, “the easiest move is to infer, based on physical appearance, which candidate seems to be more competent.”
It doesn’t always work, though. Asked about the Virginia House race in Washington’s suburbs pitting Del. Barbara Comstock and Democrat John Foust, one of the authors picked Foust as more competent. Voters gave Comstock a 12-point lead in a recent poll.Paul Bedard, the Washington Examiner's "Washington Secrets" columnist, can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.