Lev-On, Azi, and Weismel-Manor, Israel. 2016. Looks that matter: The effect of physical attractiveness in low and high information elections. American Behavioral Scientist, 60(14), 1756-1771.
Research demonstrates that good looks matter in politics. The global trend today is toward more visual ballots, which include candidates’ photographs. Because voters are exposed to a candidate’s appearance right before they vote, physical attractiveness may be a significant contributor to electoral success. But does appearance matter equally in high-information elections, where all candidates are well known to voters, and low information elections, where voters have little or no knowledge of who the candidates are? How does enhancing the photos of candidates through software programs affect their electability? To our knowledge, this article is the first to examine the impact of candidates’ appearance in high- and low-information elections in the field using two experiments involving the manipulation of their appearance. Data for the first study were collected in a low-information election in which a student population was asked to select from a list of fictitious candidates for city council. In this study, we found that the candidates’ looks had an impact on the votes they received. Data for the second study were collected right before a high-information election: A straw poll that took place immediately before the primaries for a major political party in Israel, involving party members selecting from a list of real candidates. Here the candidates’ appearance had no impact on the votes they received, even for the lesser known candidates on the list. The results indicate that the impact of visual manipulation of candidate images does influence voters, but is limited by the informational context of the elections.