By Lauren Keiper
BOSTON (Reuters Life!) - Campaign managers and strategists are often given credit for a political candidate's election victory, but stylists and image consultants should receive the praise, according to new research.
A study by political scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) shows that good looks boost a contender's chances at the polls in the United States and other countries.
"[Research] suggests that voters are maybe more superficial than we would like, and that their superficiality is shared -- it's cross cultural," said Gabriel Lenz, an associate professor at MIT, who co-authored of the study.
The researchers asked voters in the United States and India to look at photographs of 122 pairs of candidates from Brazil and Mexico and to choose which would make a better elected official.
Geography and political affiliation aside, the voters largely agreed on the same candidate. Based on the results, researchers could predict the actual election outcome in 68 percent of the Mexican elections and 75 percent of Brazilian races they studied.
"There are basic cues that people will use in faces to judge how competent people are, how honest they appear to be," said Lenz. "The results suggest that maybe those very basic judgments are somewhat universal."
In many countries including a photo on a ballot is common practice. Lenz said the study shows how it may unknowingly sway voters.
The researchers also found that looks tend to be more influential in senate and gubernatorial races -- where candidates regularly post television ads -- than in congressional elections.
"In general, more information for voters on candidates is better and the more of that sort of information they have the less likely they are to rely on superficial things like looks," Lenz said in an interview.
The study was co-authored by MIT professor Chappell Lawson, research affiliate Michael Myers and Andy Baker, a political scientist at the University of Colorado.
(Reporting by Lauren Keiper, editing by Ros Krasny and Patricia Reaney)