Saturday, October 14, 2006


Hotties Against Bush

The Democrats adopt the mantra of Fernando's Hideaway and decide that it is "better to look good than to feel good." Your Democratic Party -- a "mahvelous" home for hunks and hot chicks.

Democratic operatives do not publicly say that they went out of their way this year to recruit candidates with a high hotness quotient. Privately, however, they acknowledge that, as they focused on finding the most dynamic politicians to challenge vulnerable Republicans, it did not escape their notice that some of the most attractive prospects were indeed often quite attractive.

There is a certain logic to the trend. Back in 1994, when Republicans seized power in Congress from Democrats, the GOP had a number of fresh-faced challengers who knocked off incumbents who had grown worse for wear after years of committee hearings and fundraising receptions.

This year, it is the Democrats who have several ripe opportunities to unseat Republicans, some of whom have grown gray and portly during their years in power.

To gain the 15 seats needed to recapture House control, the party is targeting about 40 GOP-leaning districts, including New York's 24th, where veteran Rep. Sherwood L. Boehlert (R) is retiring and where Arcuri is campaigning.

In most of the races, the Democratic challengers look a lot like standard-issue politicians -- not likely to impress the judges at Atlantic City. But there are others who, while they might not have movie-star looks, are certainly well above the C-SPAN median.

The list is decidedly unscientific, but it includes several whose names come up often on Capitol Hill for reasons other than their policy platforms. Among those on it, in addition to Arcuri, are Brad Ellsworth, a swaggering Indiana sheriff; businesswoman Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona, who has chiseled features and rides a motorcycle; and Heath Shuler of North Carolina, a strapping former quarterback for the Washington Redskins. In Tennessee, Rep. Harold E. Ford Jr., a lean and stylish 36-year-old, has drawn admiring looks.

Republican Bob Corker, who is running against Ford, has acknowledged the disparity. "I know I'm not as good-looking," Corker said. He hopes his business experience will compensate.
Hey, it's something that Bill and Hillary Clinton once noticed: "In 1982 Bill Clinton won back the governorship and Hillary took his last name. She also made a new image for herself. She switched glasses for contacts, lightened her hair and dressed better."

Not surprisingly, this doesn't come out of the blue.
Some of the academic research on beauty and voting goes back decades, to the early 1970s. In 1990, political scientist Lee Sigelman, then at the University of Arizona, posited that Democrats were losing ground nationally, despite an advantage in voter registration, because their looks were a turnoff. He rated all governors and members of Congress on an ugliness scale and found that of the 26 least attractive, 25 were Democrats.

The playing field these days is more level. Research has shown that if candidates invest a little effort in their looks, the payoff can be huge. Campaign consultants hover around candidates, ordering them to change their hairstyles, get in shape and update their wardrobes. "The bar has been raised, without question," said Sigelman, now a George Washington University political science professor.

He singled out three Maryland statewide candidates, Republican Senate nominee Michael S. Steele and gubernatorial rivals Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) and Martin O'Malley (D), "as playing the image game really well." Politicians today, said Sigelman, strive for "the personality and looks of talk show hosts." The goal is to be "well turned out."

One candidate who made a high-impact adjustment is Diane Farrell. The Connecticut Democrat used to wear her blond hair pulled back tight, but after a gentle nudge from a campaign aide, she allowed it to hang loose for a more natural, relaxed look.

The looks factor can be maddening for the opposition. One writer on an anti-Shuler blog expressed annoyance at the candidate's wife, "with all her quips about how cute Shuler is. What a way to decide how to vote!!"

Perhaps not surprisingly, research has shown that voters who are easily swayed by social trends tend to favor more attractive candidates. Conversely, people who resist social trends prefer unattractive candidates.

The latest wave of research examines a possible root of political attraction: how closely candidates and voters resemble each other. A Stanford University study this year suggested that little-known candidates can increase their electoral support by as much as 20 percentage points by tweaking visual features on their campaign materials so they look slightly more like a targeted group of voters, for instance Asians or Hispanics.

The less voters know about the candidates, as in races such as the Arcuri-Meier contest with no incumbent, the more looks seem to matter. An examination of a 2001 British local election by a team of Texas Tech University and University of Plymouth researchers found that, in the absence of facts, people who are considered attractive by survey respondents are more likely to win.

The findings were presented to the American Political Science Association's 2003 annual meeting, with the caveat that they "may offend notions of democracy that candidates should compete fairly and on the basis of issues not appearance."
Hmmm...creatively using attractiveness to make a broader political and cultural "connection"? What a fascinating concept!

Virginia Postrel!

Technorati Tags: , ,

Bookmark and Share

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

Weblog Commenting and Trackback by AddThis Social Bookmark Button
Technorati search
Search Now:
Amazon Logo
  •  RSS
  • Add to My AOL
  • Powered by FeedBurner
  • Add to Google Reader or Homepage
  • Subscribe in Bloglines
  • Share on Facebook