Physical appearance gives candidates an edge with some voters, study shows

WASHINGTON – Voters who watch a lot of TV but aren’t well versed on the issues are most likely to be influenced by the physical appearance of political candidates, an MIT study released today shows.

The study examined data from the 2006 U.S. Senate and governors’ races and concluded that for every 10-point increase in the advantage a candidate has when rated by voters on his or her looks, there will be a nearly 5 percent increase in the vote for that candidate by uninformed voters who watch the most television.

However, the advantage physically attractive candidates have when it comes to uninformed voters who don’t watch much television amounts to just a 1 percent increase in votes.

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MIT political science professors Chappell Lawson and Gabriel Lenz detail the results in a new paper, “Looking the Part: Television Leads Less Informed Citizens to Vote Based on Candidates’ Appearance,’’ published this month in the American Journal of Political Science.

The appearance advantage among uninformed voters translates into a substantial edge at the ballot box that’s roughly equivalent to the influence of incumbency, Lawson said.

The results, Lenz said, highlights the need for candidates to find constructive ways of reaching and engaging voters. “The broader policy implication is that we’re asking voters to make really difficult decisions in these races,’’ he said in a statement. “And we’re not making readily available the information many of them need to make those decisions.’’

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