The Political Significance of Physical Attractiveness

What factors may influence how much media coverage members of the United States Congress receive? Recently a team of researchers examined the role of candidate attractiveness in determining the amount of media coverage elected members of the U.S. Congress obtain. Surprisingly, they found that politicians who were rated as more attractive received more media coverage in terms of television but not radio or print media coverage. More specifically, an increase of one point on an attractiveness rating scale (1-­‐ 10) was associated with 11.62% more appearances on nationally televised media programming. Importantly, this effect was found over and above the influence of such critical factors as political seniority, media-­‐market membership, legislative activity, political ideology, and House or Senate membership.

So why are attractive members of Congress receiving significantly more televised media coverage? Given that the effect of politician attractiveness was only found for televised news coverage, the researchers suggest that this effect is possibly driven by audience expectations or viewers prefer to view attractive legislators. This suggests that perhaps journalists’ beliefs about what  draws high viewership are contributing to this discrepancy in coverage. Alternatively, there may be something about the politicians themselves that make them more newsworthy. For example, perhaps attractiveness is related to another predictor of news coverage such as friendliness. More research is needed to parse why we may find such a strong relationship between candidate appearance and media coverage.

Does this discrepancy in media coverage translate into a greater number of reelections to Congress? The association between politician attractiveness and media coverage has the potential to impact electoral outcomes. In an election year when voters are making tough decisions, media coverage has the potential to sway those voters who are on the fence.

Waismel-­Manor, I., & Tsfati, Y. (2011). Why do better-­looking members of congress receive more television coverage? Political Communication, 28(4), 440-­463.

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