Keli Goff, 5/16/2011 [Archive]

Is 2012 the Year of the Good-Looking Presidential Candidate?

By Keli Goff

During a recent conversation with a friend I was reminded that Mitt Romney and President Obama have more in common than their appreciation of universal healthcare.

Apparently they both have plenty of female (and male) admirers as well.

While the president was semi-cyberstalked by 'Obama Girl' during the 2008 campaign, Romney has had to contend with headlines pondering whether or not he's 'Too Good Looking,' a question not likely to have been posed to many previous contenders. But something curious appears to be happening in the run-up to 2012. More and more, the lineup of candidates has begun to resemble an open call for anchors at a local news station as opposed to a fight to the finish for the nation's highest office.

Before you ask—yes I am slightly embarrassed to be writing about something so shallow.

But just slightly.

It turns out that the appearance of candidates actually does matter in elections—even though I'm sure we'd all agree it probably shouldn't, at least not nearly as much as it does. But apparently looks can matter almost as much as party affiliation and policy positions when it comes to determining whether or not we will vote for someone.

Don't take my word for it. That was the finding of a 2007 study from Princeton University, which found that people make snap judgments about a candidate's competence after glancing at them and can, with startling accuracy, predict the likely winners in elections by doing so.

A quick rundown of the likely contenders in the upcoming presidential election certainly seems to indicate that as we become more media obsessed, candidates and parties, have become more conscious of running candidates who look like winners. That means more Sarah Palins, Mitt Romneys, and, yes, Barack Obamas. And less President Nixons, Johnsons and other contenders of yesteryear who today would find it difficult, to put it diplomatically, to thrive under the glare of non-stop camera phone 'gotcha' shots.

Former Governors Romney and Jon Huntsman of Utah both look like they walked straight out of ads for your dad's favorite cologne, while Sarah Palin and Michele Bachman are both famous for the loyal male following they have inspired—and not for purely political reasons. The National Review's Rich Lowry authored one of the most famous (or should I say infamous) debate reviews in history when he said of Palin's performance against Joe Biden, 'I'm sure I'm not the only male in America who, when Palin dropped her first wink, sat up a little straighter on the couch and said, 'Hey, I think she just winked at me.' And her smile.'

'By the end, when she clearly knew she was doing well, it was so sparkling it was almost mesmerizing. It sent little starbursts through the screen and ricocheting around the living rooms of America. This is a quality that can't be learned; it's either something you have or you don't, and man, she's got it.' (Yes, he actually wrote that.)

Tim Pawlenty's 'boyish good looks' have also been mentioned repeatedly and for months there was an effort to draft Sen. John Thune, almost solely on the basis that he looks presidential. (He declined.)

And then there's President Obama. While no one questions his intellect (except maybe Donald Trump, who last time I checked never made editor of Harvard Law Review) there has not been a single profile of him or his family that has not noted their youthful, Camelot, second-coming of the Kennedys glamour. This may not have gotten him to office but it helped. (And for the record Smilin' Joe Biden has his own fan club of the female persuasion. Yes mom, I just outed you to the masses.)

Now it's worth noting that there are other candidates running, Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul and Herman Cain, to name a few. But is it a coincidence that so far none of them are perceived to be as viable as the aforementioned candidates?

I'm not judging. Goodness knows after reading about the Princeton study I tried to start thinking back to the last time I voted to see if I had been swayed by something as shallow as looks when I pulled the lever.

But you know what they say. What happens in the voting booth, stays in the voting booth.

-----

Keli Goff is a contributing editor for TheLoop21.com, and can be reached at assistant@keligoff.com.

This column has been edited by the author. Representations of fact and opinions are solely those of the author.




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