Predicting Elections from Politicians’ Faces

17 Pages Posted: 4 May 2010 Last revised: 15 Aug 2015

See all articles by J. Scott Armstrong

J. Scott Armstrong

University of Pennsylvania - Marketing Department

Kesten C. Green

University of South Australia - UniSA Business School; Ehrenberg-Bass Institute for Marketing Science

Randall J. Jones

University of Central Oklahoma

Malcolm Wright

University of South Australia - School of Marketing

Date Written: July 19, 2010

Abstract

Prior research found that people’s assessments of relative competence predicted the outcome of Senate and Congressional races. We hypothesized that snap judgments of "facial competence" would provide useful forecasts of the popular vote in presidential primaries before the candidates become well known to the voters. We obtained facial competence ratings of 11 potential candidates for the Democratic Party nomination and of 13 for the Republican Party nomination for the 2008 U.S. Presidential election. To ensure that raters did not recognize the candidates, we relied heavily on young subjects from Australia and New Zealand. We obtained between 139 and 348 usable ratings per candidate between May and August 2007. The top-rated candidates were Clinton and Obama for the Democrats and McCain, Hunter, and Hagel for the Republicans; Giuliani was 9th and Thompson was 10th. At the time, the leading candidates in the Democratic polls were Clinton at 38% and Obama at 20%, while Giuliani was first among the Republicans at 28% followed by Thompson at 22%. McCain trailed at 15%. Voters had already linked Hillary Clinton’s competent appearance with her name, so her high standing in the polls met our expectations. As voters learned the appearance of the other candidates, poll rankings moved towards facial competence rankings. At the time that Obama clinched the nomination, Clinton was ahead in the popular vote in the primaries and McCain had secured the Republican nomination with a popular vote that was twice that of Romney, the next highest vote-getter.

Keywords: accuracy, appearance, forecasting methods, snap judgments

JEL Classification: D72, D79

Suggested Citation

Armstrong, J. Scott and Green, Kesten C. and Jones, Randall J. and Wright, Malcolm, Predicting Elections from Politicians’ Faces (July 19, 2010). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1598338 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1598338

J. Scott Armstrong (Contact Author)

University of Pennsylvania - Marketing Department ( email )

700 Jon M. Huntsman Hall
3730 Walnut Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6340
United States
215-898-5087 (Phone)
215-898-2534 (Fax)

HOME PAGE: http://marketing.wharton.upenn.edu/people/faculty/armstrong.cfm

Kesten C. Green

University of South Australia - UniSA Business School ( email )

GPO Box 2471
Adelaide, SA 5001
Australia
+61 8 83012 9097 (Phone)

HOME PAGE: http://people.unisa.edu.au/Kesten.Green

Ehrenberg-Bass Institute for Marketing Science ( email )

Australia

HOME PAGE: http://www.marketingscience.info/people/KestenGreen.html

Randall J. Jones

University of Central Oklahoma ( email )

100 North University Drive
Edmond, OK 73034
United States

Malcolm Wright

University of South Australia - School of Marketing ( email )

Australia

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