Skip to main content Accessibility help

Effects of physical attractiveness on political beliefs

  • Rolfe Daus Peterson (a1) and Carl L. Palmer (a2)


Physical attractiveness is an important social factor in our daily interactions. Scholars in social psychology provide evidence that attractiveness stereotypes and the “halo effect” are prominent in affecting the traits we attribute to others. However, the interest in attractiveness has not directly filtered down to questions of political behavior beyond candidates and elites. Utilizing measures of attractiveness across multiple surveys, we examine the relationship between attractiveness and political beliefs. Controlling for socioeconomic status, we find that more attractive individuals are more likely to report higher levels of political efficacy, identify as conservative, and identify as Republican. These findings suggest an additional mechanism for political socialization that has further implications for understanding how the body intertwines with the social nature of politics.


Corresponding author

Correspondence: Rolfe Daus Peterson, Department of Political Science, Susquehanna University, 514 University Avenue, Selinsgrove, PA, 17870. Email:


Hide All
1 Feeley, T. H., “Comment on halo effects in rating and evaluation research,” Human Communication Research , 2002, 28(4): 578586.
2 Lemay, E. P. Jr., Clark, M. S., and Greenberg, A., “What is beautiful is good because what is beautiful is desired: Physical attractiveness stereotyping as projection of interpersonal goals,” Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin , 2010, 36(3): 339353.
3 Jennings, M. K., Stoker, L., and Bowers, J., “Politics across generations: Family transmission reexamined,” Journal of Politics , 2009, 71(3): 782799.
4 Sears, D. O. and Valentino, N. A., “Politics matters: Political events as catalysts for preadult socialization,” American Political Science Review , 1997, 91(1): 4565.
5 Berscheid, E., “An overview of the psychological effects of physical attractiveness,” in Psychological Aspects of Facial Form, Lucker, G. W., Ribbens, K. A., and McNamera, J. A., eds. (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan, 1981), pp. 123.
6 Ballew, C. C. II and Todorov, A., “Predicting political elections from rapid and unreflective face judgments,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences , 2007, 104(46): 1794817953.
7 Dumitrescu, D., “Nonverbal communication in politics: A review of research developments, 2005–2015,” American Behavioral Scientist , 2016, 60(14): 16561675.
8 Lawson, C., Lenz, G. S., Baker, A., and Myers, M., “Looking like a winner: Candidate appearance and electoral success in new democracies,” World Politics , 2010, 62(4): 561593.
9 Mattes, K. and Milazzo, C., “Pretty faces, marginal races: Predicting election outcomes using trait assessments of British parliamentary candidates,” Electoral Studies , 2014, 34: 177189.
10 Atkinson, M. D., Enos, R. D., and Hill, S. J., “Candidate faces and election outcomes: Is the face-vote correlation caused by candidate selection? Quarterly Journal of Political Science , 2009, 4(3): 229249.
11 Carpinella, C. M. and Johnson, K. L., “Politics of the face: The role of sex-typicality in trait assessments of politicians,” Social Cognition , 2013, 31(6): 770779.
12 Heflick, N. A. and Goldenberg, J. L., “Sarah Palin, a nation object(ifie)s: The role of appearance focus in the 2008 U.S. presidential election,” Sex Roles , 2011, 65(3–4): 149155.
13 Milazzo, C. and Mattes, K, “Looking good for Election Day: Does attractiveness predict electoral success in Britain? British Journal of Politics and International Relations , 2016, 18(1): 167178.
14 Samochowiec, J., Wänke, M., and Fiedler, K., “Political ideology at face value,” Social Psychological and Personality Science , 2010, 1(3): 206213.
15 Surawski, M. K. and Ossof, E. P., “The effects of physical and vocal attractiveness on impression formation of politicians,” Current Psychology , 2006, 25(1): 1527.
16 Olivola, C. Y. and Todorov, A., “Elected in 100 milliseconds: Appearance-based trait inferences and voting,” Journal of Nonverbal Behavior , 2010, 34(1): 83110.
17 Spezio, M. L., Loesch, L., Gosselin, F., Mattes, K., and Alvarez, R. M., “Thin-slice decisions do not need faces to be predictive of election outcomes,” Political Psychology , 2012, 33(3): 331341.
18 Praino, R., Stockemer, D., and Ratis, J., “Looking good or looking competent? Physical appearance and electoral success in the 2008 congressional elections,” American Politics Research , 2014, 42(6): 10961117.
19 Rosar, U., Kleinz, M., and Beckers, T., “The frog pond beauty contest: Physical attractiveness and electoral success of the constituency candidates at the North Rhine-Westphalia state election of 2005,” European Journal of Political Research , 2008, 47(1): 6479.
20 Stockemer, D. and Praino, R., “Physical attractiveness, voter heuristics and electoral systems: The role of candidate attractiveness under different institutional designs,” British Journal of Politics and International Relations , 2017, 19(2): 336352.
21 Banducci, S. A., Karp, J. A., Thrasher, M., and Rallings, C., “Ballot photographs as cues in low-information elections,” Political Psychology , 2008, 29(6): 903917.
22 Stockemer, D. and Praino, R., “Blinded by beauty? Physical attractiveness and candidate selection in the U.S. House of Representatives,” Social Science Quarterly , 2015, 96(2): 430443.
23 Alford, J. R., Funk, C. L., and Hibbing, J. R., “Are political orientations genetically transmitted? American Political Science Review , 2005, 99(2): 153167.
24 Fowler, J. H., Baker, L. A., and Dawes, C. T., “Genetic variation in political participation,” American Political Science Review , 2008, 102(2): 233248.
25 Hatemi, P. K., Alford, J. R., Hibbing, J. R., Martin, N. G., and Eaves, L. J., “Is there a ‘party’ in your genes? Political Research Quarterly , 2009, 62(3): 582600.
26 Hatemi, P. K., Funk, C. L., Medland, S. E., Maes, H. M., Silberg, J. L., Martin, N. G., and Eaves, L. J., “Genetic and environmental transmission of political attitudes over a life time,” Journal of Politics , 2009, 71(3): 11411156.
27 Marcus, G., The Birth of the Mind (New York: Basic Books, 2004), p. 34.
28 Jennings, M. K. and Niemi, R. G., “The transmission of political values from parent to child,” American Political Science Review , 1968, 62(1): 169184.
29 Jennings, M. K. and Niemi, R. G., “Continuity and change in political orientations: A longitudinal study of two generations,” American Political Science Review , 1975, 69(4): 13161335.
30 Kam, C. D. and Palmer, C. L., “Reconsidering the effects of education on political participation,” Journal of Politics , 2008, 70(3): 612631.
31 Alwin, D. F. and Krosnick, J. A., “Aging, cohorts, and the stability of sociopolitical orientations over the life span,” American Journal of Sociology , 1991, 97(1): 169195.
32 Beck, P. A. and Jennings, M. K., “Pathways to participation,” American Political Science Review , 1982, 76(1): 94108.
33 Jennings, M. K. and Markus, G. B., “Partisan orientations over the long haul: Results from the three wave political socialization panel study,” American Political Science Review , 1984, 78(4): 10001018.
34 Jennings, M. K. and Niemi, R. G., The Political Character of Adolescence: The Influence of Families and Schools (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1974).
35 Hughes, D., Rodriguez, D., J., Smith, E. P., Johnson, D. J., Stevenson, H. C., and Spicer, P., “Parents’ ethnic-racial socialization practices: A review of research and directions for future study,” Developmental Psychology , 2006, 42(5):, 774–770.
36 Spencer, M. B., “Children’s cultural values and parental child rearing strategies,” Developmental Review , 1983, 3(4): 351370.
37 Thorton, M. C., Chatters, L. M., Taylor, R. J., and Allen, W. R., “Sociodemographic and environmental correlates of racial socialization by black parents,” Child Development , 1990, 61(2): 401409.
38 Dion, K., Berscheid, E., and Walster, E., “What is beautiful is good,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology , 1972, 24(3): 285290.
39 Lorenzo, G. L., Biesanz, J. C., and Human, L. J., “What is beautiful is good and more accurately understood: Physical attractiveness and accuracy in first impressions of personality,” Psychological Science , 2010, 21(12): 17771782.
40 Paunano, S. V., “You are honest, therefore I like you and find you attractive,” Journal of Research in Personality , 2006, 40(3): 237249.
41 Sheppard, L. D., Goffin, R. D., Lewis, R. J., and Olson, J., “The effect of target attractiveness and rating method on the accuracy of trait ratings,” Journal of Personnel Psychology , 2011, 10(1): 2433.
42 Feingold, A., “Good-looking people are not what we think,” Psychological Bulletin , 1992, 111(2): 304341.
43 Jackson, L. A., Hunter, J. E., and Hodge, C. N., “Physical attractiveness and intellectual competence: A meta-analytic review,” Social Psychology Quarterly , 1995, 58(2): 108122.
44 Webster, M. Jr. and Driskell, J. E. Jr., “Beauty as status,” American Journal of Sociology , 1983, 89(1): 140165.
45 Berscheid, E. and Walster, E., “Physical attractiveness,” in Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, Berkowitz, L., ed. (San Diego, CA: Academic Press, 1974), pp. 157215.
46 Bull, R. and Rumsey, N., The Social Psychology of Facial Appearance (New York: Springer Verlag, 1988).
47 Langlois, J. H., “From the eye of the beholder to behavioral reality: The behavior of social behaviors and social relations as a function of physical attractiveness,” in Physical Appearance, Stigma, and Social Behavior: The Ontario Symposium, Newman, C. P., Zanna, M. P., and Higgins, E. T., eds. (Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum, 1986), pp. 2351.
48 Zebrowitz, L. A., Hall, J. A., Murphy, N. A., and Rhodes, G., “Looking smart and looking good: Facial cues to intelligence and their origins,” Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin , 1997, 28(2): 238249.
49 Eagly, A. H., Ashmore, R. D., Makhijani, M. G., and Longo, L. C., “What is beautiful is good, but . . .: A meta-analytic review of research on the physical attractiveness stereotype,” Psychological Bulletin , 1991, 110(1): 109128.
50 Langlois, J. H., Kalakanis, L., Rubenstein, A. J., Larson, A., Hallam, M., and Smoot, M., “Maxims or myths of beauty? A meta-analytic and theoretical review,” Psychological Bulletin , 2000, 126(3): 390423.
51 Adams, G. R., “Physical attractiveness, personality, and social reactions to peer pressure,” Journal of Psychology , 1977, 96(2): 287296.
52 Lerner, R. M. and Karabenick, S. A., “Physical attractiveness, body attitudes, and self-concept in late adolescents,” Journal of Youth and Adolescence , 1974, 3(4): 307316.
53 Lerner, R. M., Karabenick, S. A., and Stuart, J. L., “Relations among physical attractiveness, body attitudes, and self-concept in male and female college students,” Journal of Psychology , 1973, 85(1): 119129.
54 Lerner, R. M., Orlos, J. B., and Knapp, J. R., “Physical attractiveness, physical effectiveness, and self-concept in late adolescence,” Adolescence , 1976, 11(43): 313326.
55 Rosenthal, R. and Jacobsen, L., Pygmalion in the Classroom: Teacher Expectation and Pupils’ Intellectual Development (New York: Rinehart and Winston, 1968).
56 Kenealy, P., Frude, N., and Shaw, W., “Influence of children’s physical attractiveness on teacher expectations,” Journal of Social Psychology , 1988, 125(3): 373388.
57 French, M. T., Robins, P. K., Homer, J. F., and Tapell, L. M., “Effects of physical attractiveness, personality, and grooming on academic performance in high school,” Labour Economics , 2009, 16(4): 373382.
58 Ritts, V., Patterson, M. L., and Tubbs, M. E., “Expectations, impressions, and judgments of physically attractive students: A review,” Review of Educational Research , 1992, 62(4): 413426.
59 Judge, T. A., Hurst, C., and Simon, L. S., “Does it pay to be smart, attractive, or confident (or all three)? Relationships among general mental ability, physical attractiveness, core self-evaluations, and income,” Journal of Applied Psychology , 2009, 94(3): 742755.
60 Umberson, D. and Hughes, M., “The impact of physical attractiveness on achievement and psychological well-being,” Social Psychology Quarterly , 1987, 50(3): 227236.
61 Hamermesh, D. S. and Biddle, J. E., “Beauty and the labor market,” American Economic Review , 1994, 84(5): 11741194.
62 Benzeval, M., Green, M. J., and Macintyre, S., “Does perceived physical attractiveness in adolescence predict better socioeconomic position in adulthood? Evidence from 20 years of follow up in a population cohort study,” PLOS ONE , 8(5): 17.
63 Biddle, J. E. and Hamermesh, D. S., “Beauty, productivity, and discrimination: Lawyers’ looks and lucre,” Journal of Labor Economics , 1998, 16(1): 172201.
64 French, M. T., “Physical appearance and earnings: Further evidence,” Applied Economics , 2002, 32(5): 569572.
65 Mobius, M. M. and Rosenblat, T. S., “Why beauty matters,” American Economic Review , 2006, 96(1): 222235.
66 Palmer, C. L. and Peterson, R. D., “Halo effects and the attractiveness premium in perceptions of political expertise,” American Politics Research , 2016, 44(2): 353382.
67 Langlois, J. H., Ritter, J. M., Casey, R. J., and Sawin, D. B., “Infant attractiveness predicts maternal behaviors and attitudes,” Developmental Psychology , 1995, 31(3): 464472.
68 Niemi, R. G., Craig, S. C., and Mattei, F., “Measuring internal political efficacy in the 1988 National Election Study,” American Political Science Review , 1991, 85(4): 14071413.
69 Converse, P. E., “The nature of belief systems in mass publics,” in Ideology and Discontent, Apter, D., ed. (New York: Free Press, 1964), pp. 212242.
70 Levendusky, M., The Partisan Sort: How Liberals Became Democrats and Conservatives Became Republicans (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009).
71 Fraley, R. C., Griffin, B. N., and Roisman, G. I., “Developmental antecedents of political ideology: A longitudinal investigation from birth to age 18 years,” Psychological Science , 2012, 23(11): 14251431.
72 Bartels, L. M., “Beyond the running tally: Partisan bias in political perceptions,” Political Behavior , 2002, 24(2): 117150.
73 Campbell, A., Converse, P. E., Miller, W. E., and Stokes, D. E., The American Voter (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1960).
74 Green, D., Palmquist, B., and Schickler, E., Partisan Hearts and Minds (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2002).
75 Lewis-Beck, M. S., Jacoby, W. G., Norpoth, H., and Weisberg, H. F., The American Voter Revisited (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2008).
76 Brewer, M. D., “The rise of partisanship and the expansion of partisan conflict within the american electorate,” Political Research Quarterly , 2005, 58(2): 219229.
77 Carsey, T. M. and Layman, G. C., “Changing sides or changing minds? party identification and policy preferences in the american electorate,” American Journal of Political Science , 2006, 50(2): 464477.
78 Highton, B. and Kam, C. D., “The long-term dynamics of partisanship and issue orientations,” Journal of Politics , 2011, 73(1): 202215.
79 Conover, P. J. and Feldman, S., “Candidate perceptions in an ambiguous world: campaigns, cues, and inference processes,” American Journal of Political Science , 1989, 33(4): 917940.
80 Bolsen, T., Druckman, J. N., and Cook, F. L., “The influence of partisan motivated reasoning on public opinion,” Political Behavior , 2014, 36(2): 235262.
81 Slothuus, R. and de Vreese, C. H., “Political parties, motivated reasoning, and issue framing effects,” Journal of Politics , 2010, 72(3): 630645.
82 Lerner, M. J., The Belief in a Just World: A Fundamental Delusion (New York: Plenum Press, 1980).
83 Dion, K. L. and Dion, K., “Belief in a just world and physical attractiveness stereotyping,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology , 1987, 52(4): 775780.
84 Berggren, N., Jordahl, H., and Poutvaara, P., “The right look: Conservative politicians look better and voters reward it,” Journal of Public Economics , 2017, 146(1): 7986.
85 Kinder, D. R., “Belief systems today,” Critical Review , 2006, 18(1–3): 197216.
86 Claassen, R. L. and Highton, B., “Policy polarization among party elites and the significance of political awareness in the mass public,” Political Research Quarterly , 2009, 62(3): 538551.
87 Cunningham, M. R., Roberts, A. R., Barbee, A. P., Druen, P. B., and Wu, C.-H., “Their ideas of beauty are, on the whole, the same as ours: Consistency and variability in the cross-cultural perception of female physical attractiveness,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology , 1995, 68(2): 261279.
88 Hatfield, E. and Sprecher, S., Mirror, Mirror: The Importance of Looks in Everyday Life (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1986).
89 Zebrowitz, L. A., Olson, K., and Hoffman, K., “Stability of babyfaceness and attractiveness across the life span,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology , 1993, 64(3): 453466.
90 Meland, S. A., Objectivity in Perceived Attractiveness: Development of a New Methodology for Rating Facial Attractiveness. Ph.D. dissertation. (Madison: University of Wisconsin, 2002).
91 Rosenstone, S. J. and Hansen, J. M., Mobilization, Participation, and Democracy in America (New York: Macmillan, 1993).
92 Ahn, T. K., Huckfeldt, R., and Ryan, J. B., “Communication, influence, and informational asymmetries among voters,” Political Psychology , 2010, 31(5): 763787.
93 McClurg, S. D., “The electoral relevance of political talk: Examining disagreement and expertise effects in social networks on political participation,” American Journal of Political Science , 2006, 50(3): 737754.
94 Richey, S., “Hierarchy in political discussion,” Political Communication , 2009, 26(2): 137152.


Type Description Title
Supplementary materials

Peterson and Palmer supplementary material 1
Peterson and Palmer supplementary material

 Unknown (2 KB)
2 KB

Effects of physical attractiveness on political beliefs

  • Rolfe Daus Peterson (a1) and Carl L. Palmer (a2)


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed