Maybe everything else is just make-work:
A split-second glance at two candidates' faces is often enough to determine which one will win an election, according to a Princeton University study.
Princeton psychologist Alexander Todorov has demonstrated that quick facial judgments can accurately predict real-world election returns. Todorov has taken some of his previous research that showed that people unconsciously judge the competence of an unfamiliar face within a tenth of a second, and he has moved it to the political arena. His lab tests show that a rapid appraisal of the relative competence of two candidates' faces was sufficient to predict the winner in about 70 percent of the races for U.S. senator and state governor in the 2006 elections.
"We never told our test subjects they were looking at candidates for political office -- we only asked them to make a gut reaction response as to which unfamiliar face appeared more competent," said Todorov, an assistant professor of psychology and public affairs. "The findings suggest that fast, unreflective judgments based on a candidate's face can affect voting decisions."
But couldn't this be an indicator of already-formed views of politicians? Nah. Americans even predicted unknown Mexican politicians as winners:
"Political scientists have spent 50 years documenting only modest and conditional effects of the media on voting behavior, but Todorov's research suggests we may have been looking in the wrong place," said Chappell Lawson, an associate professor of political science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "Most of these previous studies have relied on transcripts or printed records of what the media say, with much less attention to visual images."
Lawson, who called Todorov's work "pioneering and seminal," added that some of his co-authored work with MIT's Gabriel Lenz corroborates the new findings. Their research shows that American students could predict the outcome of elections in Mexico based on the same gut reactions.
"The findings surprised us, because Mexican politicians often emphasize very different aspects of their appearance -- for instance, by sporting beards and mustaches, which American political figures avoid. But Americans could still pick out the Mexican winners. Our data show effects at least as strong as those Todorov's team found."
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