A new study has found that a politician’s physical features may have a greater impact on voter preferences than previously thought, and that conservatives and liberals are drawn to different physical features.
The findings show that liberal voters tend to prefer politicians with more gentle facial features, while conservatives prefer more masculine traits, such as a deep voice and a square jaw, according to the findings from two scientific articles from Aarhus University.
The study results run counter to the ideal that voters make their choices after carefully weighing the pros and cons of each candidate and party, said the researchers.
“A deep tone of voice appeals to conservative voters. More generally, conservative voters seem to have a preference for politicians who look physically strong and masculine, while liberal voters prefer those who have less dominant features and seem more accommodating, perhaps even slightly feminine,” said researcher Lasse Laustsen, Ph.D., from the university’s Department of Political Science.
To understand why this is, you have to dig a little deeper, Laustsen said. Republican voters have a preference for strong politicians, or at least those whose deep voices make them sound like they are strong, because they believe the world is a more dangerous and menacing place than Democratic voters, he said.
“If you hold up images of objects that people consider dangerous or unpleasant, for example of large spiders, and then measure the production of sweat from people’s fingertips (skin conductance response), you get an indication of spontaneous physical reaction. In these cases, conservative voters react more strongly than liberal ones. This could indicate a large visceral difference in the way these voter groups perceive the world,” Laustsen said.
Psychological mechanisms which saved our ancient ancestors from being eaten by saber-toothed tigers and other fierce animals continue to be at work today, explaining, among other things, why people vote as they do along the left-right continuum.
“There are evolutionarily important reasons for the structure of our psychology,” said researcher Michael Bang Petersen, Ph.D. “Our ancestors had to make a decision about which leader to follow, and it was crucial for their survival and reproduction that they picked the right one.
“As a species we are pre-programmed to think in a certain way about who we would like to be in charge. This affects choices that we make even today.”
Would it be helpful then for conservative politicians to tone down their dominant, masculine personality traits in the hopes of attracting left-wing voters who tend to find less dominant features more attractive?
“Democrats are often seen as empathic, compassionate types. Republicans, by contrast, are often considered as strong leaders with a moral compass. This kind of subjective views may have real importance in cases where a Republican candidate is seen as more empathic than his Democratic opponent and trespasses into his territory. Perhaps he can gain some votes there,” he said.
As for the voters, it’s helpful to be aware of what causes us to have the preferences we have. But the roots of our likes and dislikes are buried so deep in the subconscious that the two authors doubt there is very much to do about them.
“We can’t necessarily do very much to control this,” Laustsen said. “Some American research indicates that participants in lab tests are able to determine which of two unknown candidates they like more after having been exposed to images of them for less than 0.1 second. This suggests that these processes are really fast and subconscious. So I think it’s hard to rein in.”
Source: Aarhus University