Beautiful Politicians

My coauthor Amy King (who won a Rhodes scholarship on Tuesday), and I have a new paper out today.

Beautiful Politicians
Are beautiful politicians more likely to be elected? To test this, we use evidence from Australia, a country in which voting is compulsory, and in which voters are given ‘How to Vote’ cards depicting photos of the major party candidates as they arrive to vote. Using raters chosen to be representative of the electorate, we assess the beauty of political candidates from major political parties, and then estimate the effect of beauty on voteshare for candidates in the 2004 federal election. Beautiful candidates are indeed more likely to be elected, with a one standard deviation increase in beauty associated with a 1½ – 2 percentage point increase in voteshare. Our results are robust to several specification checks: adding party fixed effects, dropping well-known politicians, using a non-Australian beauty rater, omitting candidates of non-Anglo Saxon appearance, controlling for age, and analyzing the ‘beauty gap’ between candidates running in the same electorate. The marginal effect of beauty is larger for male candidates than for female candidates, and appears to be approximately linear. Beauty seems to matter more in poorer electorates, and in electorates where the median age is higher.

The ANU media release – including a list of the ten best-looking candidates in the 2004 federal election – is over the fold. Elsewhere, Mark Bahnisch, Crikey and Andrew Norton share their views.

BEAUTIFUL POLITICIANS GET MORE VOTES: STUDY

Beautiful politicians win more votes, according to ANU research released today that asked an independent group of ‘beauty raters’ to assess the looks of 286 major party candidates who ran in the 2004 federal election.

The study, conducted by ANU economist Dr Andrew Leigh and University of South Australia student Ms Amy King, found that voters tend to vote for the better-looking candidate.

“Compared to the average-looking political candidate, a candidate at the 84th percentile of the beauty distribution, as judged by our independent raters, receives an extra 1½ to 2 percent of the vote. In some seats, this is the difference between winning and losing,” Dr Leigh said.

The researchers used ‘How-to-Vote’ photographs, which were rated by four independent raters, chosen to be representative of the electorate. “There was strong agreement across our raters as to who were the most beautiful candidates. When it comes to assessing politicians, beauty is not in the eye of the beholder,” Ms King said.

The researchers performed a series of robustness checks, and found little evidence that confounding factors such as age, race or political party were driving the results.

Ms King and Dr Leigh also analysed the effect of beauty separately for male and female candidates, and for incumbents and challengers.

“For both male and female candidates, it helps to be better-looking. But we find some evidence that beauty benefits male candidates more than female candidates. This may be because female beauty carries negative connotations in the minds of some voters,” said Dr Leigh.

“Beauty matters more for challengers than for incumbents. This suggests that looks affect first impressions. Once voters come to know a politician, their physical appearance does not matter as much.

“Washington DC has been described as ‘Hollywood for ugly people’. But our results show that Australian voters are systematically choosing more handsome candidates to represent them in Canberra.”

According to the raters, the ten most attractive major party candidates in the 2004 election were, in descending order: Nicole Campbell (ALP, Bennelong), Adam Giles (LP, Fraser), Victoria Brooks (ALP, Riverina), Andrew Laming (LP, Bowman), Julie Bishop (LP, Curtin), Kate Ellis (ALP, Adelaide), Sarah McMahon (LP, Reid), Michael Keenan (LP, Stirling), Pat Farmer (LP, Macarthur), and Sussan Ley (LP, Farrer).

A copy of the paper, Beautiful Politicians, is available at: http://econrsss.anu.edu.au/~aleigh/

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7 Responses to Beautiful Politicians

  1. Andrew – Another possibility as to why looks were more important for male candidates is that women are less interested in politics than men, and therefore more reliant on proxy indicators such as a candidate’s looks. For example, in the Australian Election Survey 2004, 17.5% of men and 24.2% of women rated their interest in politics as ‘not much’ or ‘none’. There was a narrower gap for non-interest in the campaign (24%/27.4%) but larger totals lacking interest. If most people respond more to opposite-sex than same-sex looks, this could help explain the difference.

  2. wbb says:

    A study I would be interested in, Andrew is whether/why Christians get further in politics than atheists.

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