A Catwalk to Congress? Appearance-Based Effects in the Elections to the U.S. House of Representatives 2016

Published date01 July 2020
Date01 July 2020
Subject MatterArticles
American Politics Research
2020, Vol. 48(4) 427 –441
© The Author(s) 2019
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/1532673X19875710
“What Is Beautiful Is Good”—At Least
for Most of the Time and Most of the
When Dion, Berscheid & Walster (1972) wrote these words
more than 40 years ago, they were the first to show empiri-
cally that beautiful people are “assumed to possess more
socially desirable personality traits” and “expected to lead
better lives” (Dion et al., 1972, p. 285). Since then, a “beauty
premium” (Praino, Stockemer, & Ratis, 2014, 1097) has been
detected in sociological, economic, and psychological studies
within virtually all fields of life. Attractive babies get more
affectionate care by their mothers (Langlois, Ritter, Casey, &
Sawin, 1995), good-looking pupils receive better grades
(Dunkake, Kiechle, Klein, & Rosar, 2012) and are more likely
to obtain a college degree (Gordon, Crosnoe, & Wang, 2013).
Attractive persons have a better chance to get a callback when
applying for a job (López Bóo, Rossi, & Urzúa, 2013), receive
higher salaries (Hamermesh & Biddle, 1994), and do not have
to deliver the same performance as their unattractive counter-
parts in sports (e.g., in soccer, see Hagenah, Rosar, & Klein,
2010). Still, although beauty often pays, it can also have neg-
ative effects. For example, Johnson, Podratz, Dipboye, and
Gibbons (2010) show that attractiveness1 is detrimental for
women applying for masculine sex-typed jobs in which
appearance is of minor importance (e.g., prison warden). This
interaction effect between gender and attractiveness has been
termed the “beauty is beastly” effect. It has been found to be
particularly significant in high-level, managerial positions
since in these jobs “male” characteristics are often regarded
as important. Attractiveness of a woman is instead associated
with femininity giving rise to preconceptions about her suit-
ability for these kinds of jobs (Heilman & Saruwatari, 1979).
In politics, several studies confirm the effects of physical
attractiveness on the likelihood of being elected. Already in
the mid-1970s, Efrain & Patterson (1974) found a significant
correlation between beauty ratings of candidates and their
vote share in Canadian federal elections. Subsequent studies
added several controls (e.g., incumbency status) and con-
firmed a general effect of beauty both in political systems as
diverse as Australia, Finland, Brazil, Mexico, Switzerland,
875710APRXXX10.1177/1532673X19875710American Politics ResearchJäckle et al.
1Albert-Ludwigs-Universitat Freiburg, Germany
2Technische Universitat Kaiserslautern, Germany
Corresponding Author:
Sebastian Jäckle, Seminar fur Wissenschaftliche Politik, Albert-Ludwigs-
Universitat Freiburg, Werthmannstr 12, 79098 Freiburg, Germany.
Email: sebastian.jaeckle@politik.uni-freiburg.de
A Catwalk to Congress? Appearance-
Based Effects in the Elections to the
U.S. House of Representatives 2016
Sebastian Jäckle1, Thomas Metz1, Georg Wenzelburger2,
and Pascal D. König2
This article addresses the question of appearance-based effects by looking at the U.S. House of Representatives election
2016. We broaden the focus beyond existing studies by offering a comprehensive and systematic analysis of the three
traits attractiveness, competence, and likability while simultaneously taking into account confounding third variables and
possible interactions. Corresponding to the comparative character of electoral competition in the districts, we developed
a relative measure of the three traits which we apply in an online survey. This measure also takes into account the raters’
latency times, that is, their clicking speed, as a weighting factor for their ambiguity in the ratings. With these data we
test whether appearance matters for the electoral outcome. We find that attractiveness positively affects the vote share,
whereas perceived likability and competence play no role. The study also tests to what extent the found appearance effects
are conditioned by incumbency status, age, and gender of the contestants. Furthermore, it gives hints which aspects of their
appearance candidates could change to perform better at the ballot box.
candidate appearance, voter decision, face-based inference, beauty premium, facial competence, likability

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