January 29, 2018
Peterson and co-author Carl Palmer, assistant professor of politics and government at Illinois State University, published their research, Effects of physical attractiveness on political beliefs, in the Fall 2017 issue of the journal Politics and the Life Sciences.
Previous research shows that good-looking people are generally treated better, achieve higher social status and earn more money, influencing them to see the world as a just place. Social psychologists refer to this as halo effect, or when positive traits influence one's overall opinion of a person.
This blind spot stops attractive people from seeing the need for government intervention, a central element of left-wing policy, the study suggests.
"The best way to describe our results is that, if you take two individuals that share similar characteristics like age, income and education but differ in attractiveness, our results show that higher attractiveness correlates with being more efficacious and leaning more conservative than the similar individual who is less attractive," Peterson explained. "This is not deterministic; all attractive people are not conservative and all unattractive people are not liberals."
Peterson and Palmer took data from the 1972, 1974 and 1976 American National Studies surveys that asked people to evaluate the appearance of others. These results were compared with the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study that focused on the physical characteristics of more than 10,000 high school students who were rated by others on their level of attractiveness.
Given the greater social influence of attractive people, Peterson said their findings could have deeper implications. Better-looking people "may hold political sway over others in their social networks, regardless of their actual levels of effective political knowledge."
The reverse, Peterson said, is that "those who are not blessed with good looks will be less likely to feel empowered, to participate in politics, to seek redress for grievances, or to exercise their political rights."
If conservatives are more attractive than their liberal or left-wing opponents, right-wing parties may end up with an advantage at election time.
"A host of variables influence elections, and especially in close races, even a substantively small factor may swing political outcomes," Peterson said. "Recent research suggests that conservative-leaning candidates in the U.S. and Europe are, in fact, objectively more physically attractive on average than their left-leaning counterparts, which under some conditions leads to an electoral advantage."