Is a pretty face worth a thousand votes?

BQ leader Gilles Duceppe visits a cheese factory, 1997

Image faux pas: BQ leader Gilles Duceppe visits a cheese factory, 1997

As we head into Week 2 of a federal election campaign so vapid that one wonders if the party leaders are actually trying to break 2008’s record-low voter turnout by the time polls close on May 2, the latest tempest has been over the question of whether or not the CBC’s Vote Compass site is unduly biased toward the Liberals. (If you want to be a spectator to a campaign with some actual substance, check out Britain’s upcoming referendum on electoral reform instead.)

The Vote Compass site is based on the idea that the public votes for parties whose priorities most closely match their own. However, with facial expressions and body language accounting for anywhere from 55 to 93 percent of all communication, depending on who you ask, shouldn’t the leaders’ and candidates’ faces and appearance count for something?

Perhaps they should. Consider the following research:

  • “Issue positions, political programs or past performances of candidates and parties explain only partially a voters’ choice,” researcher Georg Lutz wrote in a 2009 working paper that constituted part of the Swiss Electoral Study. “…[P]hysical attractiveness of a candidate has a significant influence on the electoral success: attractive candidates receive more votes than unattractive candidates and they have a higher probability of getting elected. This is not different for male or female candidates; attractiveness is important for both men and women.”
  • “Our results, based on a much bigger dataset than has previously been used, imply that beauty does play a role for electoral success – candidates who are more beautiful than their list competitors receive higher vote shares,” three Finnish researchers observed in a 2006 discussion paper prepared for the Helsinki Center of Economic Research. “Evaluations of beauty explain success in real elections better than evaluations of competence, intelligence, likability, or trustworthiness.”
  • “Our research… suggests that heuristics such as candidate attractiveness, race and gender do play a role in electoral outcomes in low information elections,” a study involving academics from Dutch, U.S. and British universities concluded in 2003, referring to elections where relatively little is known about the candidates appearing on the ballot paper. “That electoral outcomes in low information elections may be biased toward attractive, white candidates may offend notions of democracy that suggest that candidates should compete fairly and on the basis of issues not appearance. The conclusions may be particularly troublesome when we see that candidate appearance cues outweigh candidate experience in predicting the success of candidates.”

By the way, if you’re interested in showing a bit of support for our Kiwi friends recovering from the recent earthquake in Christchurch, I’ve got a free extra ticket to “Hands Up 4 N.Z.“, an event organized by the Down Under Club of Winnipeg, a group of New Zealand and Australian expatriates living in Winnipeg. It takes place Thursday, April 7 at 6 p.m. at Triple B’s Restaurant on Scurfield Boulevard. Beer, burgers and “chips” (presumably the Kiwi meaning of the word, which refers to what Canadians normally know of as fries) will be on hand. Proceeds go to the Canadian Red Cross. If interested, let me know and I’ll make arrangements to get it to you.


About theviewfromseven
A lone wolf and a bit of a contrarian who sometimes has something to share.

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