Introduction and outline

The above quotation by Silvana Koch-Mehrin, the German Liberal Party's frontrunner in the 2004 European election, exemplifies a very widespread belief in the advantages of personal attractiveness in politics. It begs the question of whether this belief is based in fact or is more the wishful thinking of an unarguably attractive politician. For obvious reasons, we intend to pursue this question with regard to the European election 2004. This article investigates what effects the physical attractiveness of front-runners had on the vote share of their respective party or combined list in this election.

We have, however, not only chosen the European election 2004 as a subject for investigation because Silvana Koch-Mehrin was running as a candidate. The analysis of a European election also enables the investigation of the effects of front-runners' physical attractiveness in large (in some cases national) multi-member constituencies. Yet empirical analyses have hitherto mainly focused on single-member constituencies, presidential elections and open lists in proportional representation systems. As the electoral systems for European elections differ between member states, it also allows for the investigation of the influence that features of the electoral system had on the degree of influence of front-runners' physical attractiveness on the electoral success of their party/combined list. This offers the possibility of identifying areas for institutional adjustment which the legislator can use to repel this influence – assuming it is regarded by the legislator as normatively undesirable.

The rest of the paper is divided into five parts. Initially the current state of research on the effects of politicians' physical attractiveness is presented. Here, there will be particular emphasis on those analyses that deal with the effects of politicians' physical attractiveness on their electoral success and/or the success of their party (Sect. 2). Following on from this, several theoretical expectations are derived related to the impact of front-runners' physical attractiveness at the European election 2004 (Sect. 3). After a short description of the available data (Sect. 4), the results of the empirical analyses are presented (Sect. 5). The paper ends with several short conclusions (Sect. 6).

 
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