A thorough and extensive MIT study recently uncovered the fact that looks are important in political elections.
Okay, now I’m going to try real hard not to go too heavy on the sarcasm here, but I’m afraid I might not be able to remain my normal wide eyed, innocent optimist self, so bear with me.
It turns out that not only does appearance strongly influence voters, but that people around the world all have a similar idea of what that appearance should be. The MIT researchers showed voters in both the US and India pairs of photos – photos of actual candidates who ran against each other in Brazil and Mexico. Without knowing anything about the elections, voters in both countries proved uncannily good at predicting which one of the pair won the election, just by deciding which one looked like the better candidate.
Wow, golly-gee, the good looking candidate gets the votes. Nail me to a wall and call me an election calendar.
Yes, it turns out that a Jimmy Carter smile and Blagojevich hair (and what is up with that hair? I hear it has its own agent and defense attorney) will get you that election – all things being equal, and even when all things aren’t equal. The American and Indian test subjects agreed about 75% of the time, despite the differences in cultures and histories. This doesn’t surprise me: As Horton the Elephant says, people are people, no matter how small. Or small minded, in this case.
Whether they agreed or not, they were accurate in picking the winner 68% of the time in Mexico, and 75% of the time in Brazil. I’m willing to guess that if the same study was done with Brazilian voters, they’d be just as accurate in picking US and Indian elections. I’ll bet they’d be accurate 95% of the time in Iranian and Chinese elections. See that guy who still has his head and appears to already be in charge? Yep – winner.
Maybe this is an argument against Democracy. No Soviet citizen ever voted for someone because they thought he was better looking than Stalin (because Stalin was the only one on the ballot). Will some future candidate just come right out and say it? “Don’t worry about anything, my fellow citizens – I’m handsome!”
In response to the study, an economist named Panu Poutvaara suggested voters may prefer good looking characters because “voters either enjoy watching good-looking politicians on TV, or think that they are better in social interactions”.
Does he mean we vote for the handsome guy (or gal) because that’s who we want to see on the nightly news for the next few years? Or that we think a charmer might sweet talk those pesky terrorists into unbuckling their bombs? Or is he saying we don’t see beyond the campaign flyers in the first place, and the rest is just fallout?
‘Cause we wouldn’t be that shallow. Would we? Nah.
Okay, then, let’s do a quick review. Let me Google some Presidential pictures … hm. This doesn’t make any sense. If it’s all about appearances, why isn’t Julia Roberts or Angelina Jolie President? Wait, has Angelina produced her birth certificate?
I don’t generally examine men from a looks standpoint, but I’ll try to be objective, even though objectivity goes against the whole point of the study. Okay … well, the first thing I noticed will really piss of a lot of my readers, but I’ll say it anyway: Obama and G.W. Bush both have the similar features of rather big ears, but otherwise neither is all that bad looking. I wonder which side will string me up, or firebomb my house?
Clinton’s a handsome guy, the first Bush and Reagan are good looking fellows, and although I wouldn’t accompany Carter or Ford to the prom they’ve got that dignified older guy thing going for them. Carter’s smile, though … I used to have nightmares about that smile coming out from under my bed to use my body as dental floss.
Then there’s Nixon.
I don’t have an explanation for Nixon.
I can see how he lost to Kennedy, but did you know he was the only person to be elected twice to both the Presidency and Vice-Presidency? I can see only two solutions: Either the competition was divided by an independent candidate (which happened in both his Presidential runs), or it was like a Chicago election and he had the support of hundreds of thousands of voters currently residing in cemeteries, who no longer could see what he looked
Once we get past Nixon, we don’t encounter a truly ugly President until Abraham Lincoln. That’s a matter of opinion, of course, and I’d bet Johnson (either of them) would never appear on a Playgirl centerfold, but when you consider the conventions of the time they got by. So what’s the story with Lincoln?
Well, there’s also the fact that the Democrats were split by that whole slavery thing, but let’s face it: Abe had to be honest, because he sure didn’t have his looks going for him. What he did have going for him was an absence of what killed Nixon in his contest with Kennedy: television cameras. These days, add high resolution photography, talk radio and cable TV trashing his appearance. Lincoln must have actually won – wait for it – based on the issues.
Which makes the solution to the whole thing obvious. First: Do not allow any campaigning or even the suggestion of who might be the candidate until two weeks before the general election. The primaries will be held during those two weeks.
Second, for the two weeks before the election, every voter in the United States will be blindfolded.
Okay, so it’s not a perfect solution. Food will have to be cooked ahead of time, and a few toes may be stubbed, but imagine the greater benefit: Only two weeks of campaign ads, and you won’t even have to look at them.
That’s putting a handsome face on it.