Gene Expression

The fact of the irrational voter

i-56f35e1634fd162b00af11fa831150bf-Gov-Palin-2006_Official.jpgThe Political Gender Gap: Gender Bias in Facial Inferences that Predict Voting Behavior:

Contrary to the notion that people use deliberate, rational strategies when deciding whom to vote for in major political elections, research indicates that people use shallow decision heuristics, such as impressions of competence solely from a candidate’s facial appearance, when deciding whom to vote for. Because gender has previously been shown to affect a number of inferences made from the face, here we investigated the hypothesis that gender of both voter and candidate affects the kinds of facial impressions that predict voting behavior.

… Results indicate that both gender of voter and candidate affect the kinds of facial impressions that predict voting behavior. All voters are likely to vote for candidates who appear more competent. However, male candidates that appear more approachable and female candidates who appear more attractive are more likely to win votes. In particular, men are more likely to vote for attractive female candidates whereas women are more likely to vote for approachable male candidates.

Who are these people who believe that the public as a whole uses “deliberate, rational strategies”? Seems like this is the same stock-model that the press uses when they assert that “. The American people aren’t stupid.” The American people are too stupid, and if you don’t think they are, you’re stupid yourself so you can’t judge. Political scientists have long assumed that democracy is still a rational system because human stupidity doesn’t exhibit bias; in other words, the stupidity is randomly distributed so that intelligence shifts the majority decisively in the direction of the rational choice. Unfortunately, as Bryan Caplan argues in The Myth of the Rational Voter, humans do have systematic biases which overwhelm the rational signal in the irrational noise. Anyone with a glancing familiarity with cognitive science would find Caplan’s hypothesis plausible on a priori grounds, but he marshals the empirical data. Intelligent people sometimes need a reminder that they can’t naively project their own mental operation to the modal human, just because someone is less irrational does not mean that they are necessarily less ignorant.


Note: Please be aware that you can substitute “people” for “American people.” I think the average human just not that bright.


  1. #1 agnostic
    October 31, 2008

    Here are two links on facial appearance and getting the vote:

    Comment on an article about competence getting the vote — it was really an effect of babyfaceness (babyfaced people appearing less competent to others).

    Zebrowitz & Montepare (2005). Appearance does matter. Science, 5728: 1565-6.

    Randall Parker blog entry:

  2. #3 Matt Springer
    November 2, 2008

    Hmm. Well, Hillary and Obama were certainly the Democrats with the best appearances in the primaries. On the Republican side, Romney was probably the best-looking and he did quite well. On the other hand, McCain is not exactly a GQ model.

    Considering the low N and modest R, I’d say the hypothesis fits this election reasonably well.

  3. #4 razib
    November 2, 2008

    McCain is not exactly a GQ model.

    yeah, but correct for his age. mccain’s wives have been good-looking (first wife was a model), so he’s got something going on (look at the keating five era mccain). but yes, you’re spot on about he N and R IMO (remember that W has gone against the taller-guy-wins CW both times).

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