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Looking Like a Winner: Candidate Appearance and Electoral Success in New Democracies

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 October 2010

Chappell Lawson
Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Email:
Gabriel S. Lenz
Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Email:
Andy Baker
University of Colorado at Boulder, Email:
Michael Myers
Department of Political Science, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Email:
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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.

Research Article
Copyright © Trustees of Princeton University 2010

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