Theoretical expectations relating to the Impact of Front-Runners' Physical Attractiveness at the European Election 2004

The aspects of attractiveness research that are relevant for empirical election research have already been extensively outlined in other places (Klein and Rosar 2005; Rosar et al. 2008). Therefore, only the most important components of the line of argument are recapped here. Attractiveness research starts from the proposition that the attractiveness of a person can be determined relatively unambiguously. Consequently, beauty is not in the eye of the beholder, but lies rather in the external characteristics of the person being observed (Köhler 1984, p. 140). Thus there is a relatively high consensus in how various observers rate the attractiveness of a certain individual. This phenomenon is what is termed the attractiveness consensus (Cunningham 1986; Cunningham et al. 1986, 1995; Henss 1987, 1992; Iliffe 1960). Moreover, attractiveness results in clearly describable effects. Thus, attractive people are attributed with a whole range of positively regarded personality traits as part of the so-called attractiveness stereotype (Dermer and Thiel 1975; Dion et al. 1972; Eagly et al. 1991; Feingold 1992; Miller 1970); they receive greater attention (Maner et al 2003); and they are treated much better by their social environment than unattractive people (Dion and Berscheid 1974; Ritter et al. 1991; Stephan and Langlois 1984). All these effects should then also apply to attractive politicians. Our analysis consequently starts with the basic hypothesis that parties and combined lists with attractive frontrunners should have greater chances of electoral success.

If one attempts to define more precisely the effect that the attractiveness of frontrunners has on the electoral success of their parties, this results in the following basic chain of cause and effect: due to the attractiveness consensus, voters are believed to arrive at very similar judgements about the attractiveness of the front-runners. Attractive front-runners are attributed with a range of favorable traits from which voters gain an expectation of superior political performance which in turn supposedly colors the evaluation of their party or combined list. Voters also pay attractive front-runners much more attention which leads to them – and their parties – being better remembered and having more presence during the process of the voters' decision-making. As a result, also the likelihood increases of parties with attractive front-runners being elected.

The electoral system used at the European election 2004 was not the same across the 25 member states (Nohlen 2004). Thus, it was left, among other things, to the national legislators to decide whether to make the population's participation in the election compulsory or not, whether to divide the election area into sub-national constituencies or not, whether to introduce a barring clause or to enable preference voting, i.e., flexible lists. For all these elements of the electoral system it is possible to formulate theoretical expectations of how these elements will affect the strength of impact that front-runners' physical attractiveness has on the electoral success of their parties. Thus, the introduction of an electoral duty could strengthen this effect as this would increase the number of politically disinterested and uninformed voters taking part in the election. This could make voters base their decisions on more superficial criteria. By contrast, the existence of sub-national constituencies should reduce the impact that attractiveness has on electoral success as this would mean that individual front-runners would be allocated less space in the national media's reporting and therefore the front-runners should be less prominent to voters. A barring clause could again lessen the effects of candidate attractiveness as in this case voter decisions may be based more on tactical voting. Then, finally, there remain free lists: through the medium of preference voting the electorate may then, for the first time, have an incentive to look more closely at the candidates placed behind the front-runners. This could also reduce the impact of front-runners' physical attractiveness on the election result.

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