Why Conservative Politicians May Be More Attractive Than Liberal Ones

A new study suggests that conservative politicians in the United States, Europe, and Australia tend to be better-looking.

David Gray / Reuters

Conservative politicians are better looking than liberal politicians on average in the United States, Europe, and Australia—and that might create an overall advantage for conservative parties, according to a study published in the February issue of the peer-reviewed Journal of Public Economics.

The study goes on to suggest that the more attractive a politician is, the more likely voters across the political spectrum are to assume he or she is conservative, while the less attractive a politician is, the more likely voters are to assume he or she is liberal.

Prior research indicates that good-looking political candidates win more votes, just one of the many ways attractive individuals seem to have it better in life. There is evidence to suggest that beautiful people are viewed by others as more likable, trustworthy and competent, and may be more likely to land job interviews and earn more money than less attractive people to name just a few advantages.

To determine the political consequences of voters preferring attractive candidates, researchers at the Research Institute of Industrial Economics in Sweden and the Ifo Institute in Germany set out to find which parties were populated with more attractive politicians. After tallying up the results of surveys evaluating the attractiveness of politicians in the United States, Europe and Australia, researchers found that conservative politicians in all three places ranked as more attractive on average.

In the United States, these results might mean that GOP candidates have an advantage over Democrats in elections simply because they tend to be better looking. “Politicians on the right are more beautiful than politicians on the left in Europe, the United States, and Australia,” the authors of the study write, adding that “their beauty advantage, all else equal, makes candidates on the right more likely to win office and implement their preferred policies.”

The study, titled The right look: Conservative politicians look better and voters reward it, goes on to argue that conservative politicians are not only considered more attractive on average, but also derive more benefit from that perception than liberal politicians who are similarly attractive. Specifically, the study found that attractive conservative politicians won more votes than attractive liberal politicians in elections when voters didn’t know much about the candidates.

It proposes that one potential explanation for why attractive conservative candidates win more votes is because conservative and liberal voters alike assume that more attractive candidates lean conservative. As a result, attractive conservative candidates might receive an added boost by winning votes from conservative voters who believe the candidate is more likely to stand up for conservative values, while some liberal voters might be less inclined to vote for attractive liberal candidates since they may assume the candidates are conservative or at least lean that way in terms of ideological preference.

Further supporting the idea that voters associate good looks with conservatism, researchers asked respondents to guess which political party politicians represented based on a photograph. They found that conservative politicians who were correctly guessed to be conservative were on average more attractive than conservative politicians that respondents did not correctly identify as conservative.

“The more good-looking a candidate, the more he or she is thought to stand to the right,” one of the study authors Professor Panu Poutvaara of the University of Munich and Ifo Institute, said in an-email, adding: “This connection holds among both liberal and conservative voters.”

The research suggests voters on both the left and the right use beauty as a kind of mental shortcut when deciding how to vote in scenarios where they don’t know much about the candidates. “Voters indeed use beauty as a cue for candidate ideology,” the authors write in the study.

So why would conservative politicians be more attractive on average in the United States, Europe and Australia? The study offers a possible explanation, arguing that as a result of the monetary advantages and general privilege conferred by good looks, attractive people may be more likely to end up identifying as conservatives. According to the researchers:

A simple economic explanation of the appearance gap in favor of the right is that beautiful people earn more money, and the more people earn, the more they are inclined to oppose redistribution and, arguably, to support, get active in, and represent parties to the right. A more general psychological explanation could be that good-looking people are more likely to perceive the world as a just place, since they are treated better than others, and are happier, and a frequent reason for people to sympathize with the left is a perception of the world as unfair.

The research is not an exhaustive study of conservative parties, candidates and voting behavior. In studying politicians in the United States, for example, researchers only looked at candidates running in elections dating from 1995 to 2008, and excluded Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton from their analysis. Given their high-profile, respondents might recognize both politicians and not be able to provide an unbiased assessment.

The conclusions of the study are not definitive. The suggestion that attractive people are more likely to be conservative because they earn more money and see the world as a more just place is only one possible attempt at explaining the conclusions of the study. And the notion that attractive people gravitate towards conservatism seems to run counter to the liberal streak running through Hollywood.

If nothing else, the research suggests that the outcome of elections can be influenced by superficial qualities, though it also suggests that voters associate those superficial qualities with particular ideological leanings. It’s a reminder that the reasons why an individual votes for a political candidate may be far from straight-forward.