November 4, 2019/ 1:00 PM - 2:30 PM

Bunche 10383

Candidates' Facial Attractiveness and Electoral Success: Evidence from Japan's Upper House Elections

with Professor Masahiko Asano, Takushoku University and Professor Yoshikuni Ono, Tohoku University


Do better looking candidates gain more votes in elections? When voters evaluate candidates running for office, they use information cues and heuristics, which may or may not be directly related to politics. Existing research shows that a candidate’s physical appearance—facial attractiveness, in particular—affects not only how voters evaluate the candidate but also the fate of his or her election outcome. Yet, some studies argue that a candidate’s facial expressions, such as smiling, increase his or her votes, while others claim that voters’ impressions of the candidate’s face, such as competent looking, influence their vote choice. Thus, these factors might play more important roles in voting behavior than does candidates’ facial attractiveness.

Our study innovates this line of research by examining the effects of candidates’ facial attractiveness on vote share while controlling for their facial expressions and impressions. Moreover, we use original data of a survey that asked more than 1,400 American voters to subjectively evaluate 494 faces of Japanese candidates running for the Upper House elections in 2013 and 2016. We combine the data of those ratings of candidate faces with those of their actual election outcomes as well as personal attributes. By so doing, we conservatively assess whether the relationship between candidates’ facial attractiveness and their vote share persists even when the former is evaluated by people in totally different cultures and racial groups.

The results of our study demonstrate that Japanese voters select a candidate running for national office partly based on his or her facial attractiveness: candidates increase their vote share as they have higher attractiveness scores, though their facial expressions and impressions have a null effect on their vote share. Importantly, a candidate’s facial attractiveness is not negligible in the sense that it has almost the same effect size as seniority does. These results provide evidence that suggests not a few voters rely on easy and intuitive but some specific cues to evaluate candidates.


About the Speakers

Masahiko Asano is Professor of Political Science, and the Dean of the Graduate School of LocalGovernment, at Takushoku University, Tokyo, Japan. He completed his Ph.D. in Political Science at UCLA. His research focuses on the effects of both electoral system on political behavior, and of heuristic factors, such as candidates’ facial expression, on their election success. His publications include articles in Politics and the Life Sciences, and he is the co-editor of Power in Contemporary Japan (Palgrave Macmillan, 2016).


Yoshikuni Ono is Professor of Political Science at Tohoku University and Faculty Fellow at the Research Institute of Economy, Trade and Industry. He completed his Ph.D. in Political Science at the University of Michigan. His research focuses on the comparative study of legislative politics and electoral behavior. Current research projects include studies of the effect of gender stereotypes on voter behavior and the effect of foreign threats on parliamentary speeches in Japan. His work has appeared in American Journal of Political Science, Journal of Politics, Political Behavior, Political Science Research and Methods, etc.

Download file: ASANO-FLYER-3-11.4.19-mj-kml.pdf