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Keywords:

  • Elections;
  • Fear;
  • Competence;
  • Campaigning;
  • Candidate images;
  • Political behavior

Conventional wisdom, and a growing body of behavioral research, suggests that the nonverbal image of a candidate influences voter decision making. We presented subjects with images of political candidates and asked them to make four trait judgments based solely on viewing the photographs. Subjects were asked which of the two faces exhibited more competence, attractiveness, deceitfulness, and threat, which are arguably four of the most salient attributes that can be conveyed by faces. When we compared our subjects' choices to the actual election outcomes, we found that the candidates chosen as more likely to physically threaten the subjects actually lost 65% of the real elections. As expected, our findings support the conclusions of Todorov, Mandisodza, Goren, and Hall (2005) by showing a positive correlation between the competence judgments and the real election outcomes. Surprisingly, attractiveness was correlated with losing elections, with the effect being driven by faces of candidates who looked politically incompetent yet personally attractive. Our findings have implications for future research on negative political communication, as they suggest that both threatening first impressions and fleeting impressions of attractiveness can harm a candidate's electoral chances.