As they choose candidates for the upcoming election, Democrats are looking for many qualities, including competence, character, and charisma. But new research suggests if they’re looking for crossover votes, they might also want to consider another, less-obvious trait: whether the nominees look like Republicans.
“Having a deceptively Republican-looking face may help Democrats ‘steal’ Republican votes, without compromising their support among left-leaning voters,” writes a research team led by Christopher Olivola of Carnegie Mellon University.
That’s because Republicans—but not Democrats—are more likely to vote for a candidate who has the stereotypical facial figures of a member of their party. That conclusion, based on exit-poll data from 171 elections, emerges from a new study published in the journal Political Psychology.
It has been clear for nearly a decade that we make assumptions about the ideology of others based on their facial features. What’s more, we’re pretty good at it: A 2010 study found a student sample examining black-and-white photographs guessed right 60 percent of the time—considerably better than chance.
That, in turn, reflected our shorthand knowledge of what the two parties stand for. The researchers found people whose faces conveyed warmth were more likely to be pegged as Democrats, while those that projected power were more often seen as Republicans.
But does this really influence votes, given that voters can easily access information on the candidates’ actual policy positions? Olivola found some evidence that it does in a 2012 study in which participants made hypothetical voting choices. This new research offers a real-world test.
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