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MIT study: politicians win on looks

MIT has just published an interesting study, “LOOKING LIKE A WINNER Candidate Appearance and Electoral Success in New Democracies.” Here is the paper’s abstract:

A flurry of recent studies indicates that candidates who simply look more capable or attractive are more likely to win elections. In this article, the authors investigate whether voters‘ snap judgments of appearance travel across cultures and whether they influence elections in new democracies. They show unlabeled, black-and-white pictures of Mexican and Brazilian candidates‘ faces to subjects living in America and India, asking them which candidates would be better elected officials. Despite cultural, ethnic, and racial differences, Americans and Indians agree about which candidates are superficially appealing (correlations ranging from .70 to .87). Moreover, these superficial judgments appear to have a profound influence on Mexican and Brazilian voters, as the American and Indian judgments predict actual election returns with surprising accuracy. These effects, the results also suggest, may depend on the rules of the electoral game, with institutions exacerbating or mitigating the effects of appearance.


Elections in democracies are indeed partly popularity contests. The part that I find particularly fascinating is the fact that Americans and Indians seem to share this common view about the Brazilian and Mexican political candidates as to what is capable and attractive.

Are “good looks” becoming universal around the world? That’s what this study suggests, and I believe it. The question then is what caused this phenomenon? Hollywood? If Hollywood is partly responsible for leading the way around the world on what “good looks” are, then the scarier follow-on question is how Hollywood is leading our world in thinking what’s “evil.”

Recently, I watched the movie, “Prince of Persia: Sands of Time.” It’s an excellent movie, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. The movie is based in Persia – in the Middle East where present day Iran is at. The backdrops are obviously Mid Eastern looking. The villains are Mid Eastern looking. The heroes and “good guys” – well, they certainly look more Western to me.

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