The increasing prominence of open list electoral systems in Sweden and other countries, has lead to an increasing importance placed on personal qualities, the researchers argued.
“One possible explanation is that people who are seen or consider themselves beautiful tend to be more anti-egalitarian and right wing,” Niclas Berggren, a researcher at independent research institute Ratio in Stockholm and one of the three co-authors of the study, told The Local.
The study compared election results from parliamentary and municipal elections held in Finland in 2003 and 2004 respectively with an online poll of Swedes, Americans and other non-Finns to determine how the 1,357 participating Finnish candidates ranked in terms of beauty.
More than 2,500 non-Finns were shown photographs of each candidate, with no indication of which side of the political spectrum they stood on, and were
asked to rank them on a scale from one (very ugly) to five (very beautiful).
“We have found that candidates on the right are considered to look better than those on the left. We have also found that they benefit from this in elections – you could say that there is a form of beauty premium,” Bergren said.
Bergren told The Local that there are several studies identifying this phenomenon within the business world, with good looking people earning an average 15 percent more, and the researchers wanted to study if there is an equivalent within the political sphere.
In a 2006 paper entitled “The Looks of a Winner: Beauty, Gender and Electoral Success,” Bergren, together with Henrik Jordahl at the Research Institute of Industrial Economics, Stockholm and Panu Poutvaara at the University of Helsinki and IZA Bonn, concluded that good looks are a key part of political success.
The trio’s new preliminary study entitled, “The Right Look: Conservative Politicians Look Better and Their Voters Reward It” is argued to confirm that not only do looks matter, but they matter more for the right.
“I think the right has been more conscious of looks,” he said, citing the examples of Ronald Reagan and Sarah Palin in the US.
Bergren argued that this development raises questions over the increasing importance of open lists in Swedish elections, arguing that it is fair to presume that Swedish politicians also benefit from their appearance.
“The effects of beauty in western culture are universal. A stronger role for open list voting will mean an increase in the importance of beauty and the focus on personalities in politics.”
“It is more Reinfeldt against Sahlin, than the issues,” he argued.
The preliminary study, which was published by the German Institute for the
Study of Labour (IZA), has yet to appear in a peer-reviewed scientific journal.