Science Weighs In: Conservatives “Look Better”
New research explains why political conservatives hold a "beauty advantage."
Posted March 18, 2018 | Reviewed by Ekua Hagan
I feel cheap writing this. This reeks of clickbait, but I can’t help it. Science can be provocative, too.
Two recent research articles suggest that political conservatives tend to be more physically attractive than political liberals.
Niclas Berggren, Henrik Jordahl, and Panu Poutvaara present evidence from three studies in the Journal of Public Economics that right-leaning politicians in Australia, Europe, and the US “look more beautiful.” Partly because of that, they get more votes, particularly in low-level elections where other information is scarce.
Rolfe Peterson and Carl Palmer present evidence from two studies in the journal Politics and the Life Sciences that “more attractive individuals” are more likely to consider themselves to be conservative and Republican.
So, both conservative leaders and their followers “look better.” OK, I get that partisans in our highly polarized political environment will be drawn to any advantage they can dispute. But the really interesting part for the nerds among us may be why conservatives have this advantage.
Clickbait for Nerds
One of the neat things about this research is that the authors offer explanations about why people on the right hold a beauty advantage.
Not surprisingly, economists offer an economic explanation. They “rightly” note (should I claim this pun?) that a lot of research shows that physically attractive people earn more money. And because they earn more money, they are more likely to oppose policies calling for the redistribution of economic resources, like taxes. A classic conservative policy position.
The political scientists offer a psychological explanation (yes, we political scientists do it all, even psychology). They note that social interaction is often easier and more pleasant for physically attractive individuals. Others tend to evaluate “beautiful people” as being more successful, intelligent, and capable. And they tend to treat them more warmly. This includes evidence that parents treat their more attractive children more warmly than their less attractive children. Whoa!
As a result, physically attractive people are less likely to experience life challenges that might be addressed by government social welfare programs. Therefore, they will be less likely to see a need for and support such programs. Again, a classic conservative policy position. And to be fair to the economists, they also acknowledge this explanation.
Biology Matters in Politics
Conservatives tend to be more physically attractive. What do we do with this? In the academic research world, we refer to this as the “so-what question.”
If you’re a political conservative, you probably feel “pretty” good (is this pun better?) about this. If you’re a political liberal, you probably think this is an “ugly” outcome (nope, definitely not this one).
But, if you’re interested in the question of whether and how biology affects political behavior, you have even more evidence now that it does along with a couple of conventional, and in my mind persuasive, arguments about how. That’s certainly clickbait for me.
Want more on "looks" and voting?
Berggren, Niclas, Henrik Jordahl, and Panu Poutvaara. “The right look: Conservative politicians look better and voters reward it.” Journal of Public Economics 146 (2017): 79-86.
Peterson, Rolfe Daus, and Carl L. Palmer. “Effects of physical attractiveness on political beliefs.” Politics and the Life Sciences 36, no. 2 (2017): 3-16.