Politically hot or not? Voters see attraction through 'party-colored glasses'

Did you get a little swoony when President Barack Obama hit the beach with his shirt off? Or long to run your fingers through Mitt Romney's perfect hair?

The answer may say more about your political party than your romantic type.

Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama.
Getty Images
Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama.

A new study released by Cornell University says that voters generally find the candidate associated with their political party to be more attractive.

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The study, out last month, found through two separate samplings that partisanship influenced judgment on a candidate's attractiveness. Researchers surveyed legislative aides affiliated with a campaign in Wisconsin, along with self-identified partisans in Minnesota.

"I think what's surprising is that people are under this assumption that physical attraction is fixed, but in both studies we find evidence that partisanship colors the perception of what is 'attractive,'" said Kevin M. Kniffin, postdoctoral research associate at Cornell University and the study's lead researcher.

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Both groups were studied in the 2010 election cycle and given pictures of male and female political candidates both familiar and unfamiliar to the constituents. Familiar candidates included Obama and Vice President Joe Biden and their 2008 opponents John McCain and Sarah Palin.

Generally, Democrats and Republicans chose the politicians who were members of their party as more physically attractive.

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A secondary finding in the surveys, Kniffin said, was that familiarity played just as much of a role as partisanship did — familiar leaders were deemed more attractive on average, regardless of political affiliation. Palin came out on top overall among the Wisconsin group, with Obama a close second among Democrats but trailing several other candidates among Republicans.

Kniffin said voters see attractiveness through "party-colored glasses."

"So much attention is attached to the influence of physical traits on voters, and now it seems we are looking the opposite way," he said.

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So if politics is show business for ugly people, what would happen if a beautiful celebrity — say an Ashely Judd or Ben Affleck — wandered into the race?

Kniffin said the results would pan out the same way, with partisanship outweighing perceived physical attractiveness.

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"In that scenario, the members of the opposite political party would come to view that celebrity as significantly less attractive as they became a political candidate," Kniffin said.

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