What affects voters’ preferences for political candidates – how important is image versus policy?

In light of the recent US federal election, and the instability of the Australian minority Government, burningpants thought it might be worth digging a little deeper into the mindsets of voters.

Firstly, voters take candidates on face value. A study from the University of Chicago found that the candidate’s image is very important – more important, in fact, than the message itself.

This is no secret in political circles and is why many of them get training in body language, appearance, pronunciation, gestures and even gaffes to fine tune their own personal brand.

Secondly, voters prefer deeper-voiced candidates. According to a study from Duke University, men and women prefer political candidates with deeper voices regardless of the speaker’s gender.

Other areas where voters identify with candidates relates to their attractiveness. The more attractive candidates are preferred over less attractive ones.

Similarly, a facial similarity between voters and candidates influences voter decision-making. Having similar physical traits such as height and facial appearance and social categories such as race and gender all contribute to voters’ identifying with a candidate.

Further, a 2007 study found that national flags have an influence on political behaviour. Exposure to a national flag leads voters to support politically moderate views. In countries which are dominated by a two-party system, the national flag will cause people to lean towards one end of the spectrum rather than to the middle.

Results in an American study showed exposure to an American flag during deliberation about voting intentions led to significant changes in voting intentions, voting behaviour and political attitudes all in the direction of conservatism.

There are certainly some lessons in here for Australia’s politicians. Julia and Tony better get to the salon if they want to win over the all-important swing voters in the next Federal election.


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