Beauty is in the eye of the (politically partisan) beholder.
By Tom Jacobs
Fans of Democratic presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders embrace during a rally on June 6, 2016 in San Francisco, California. (Photo: Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
You notice a stranger across a crowded room and feel an immediate attraction. But then you wonder: Is he really good looking, or is it the dim lighting? Or the fact I’m on my third drink?
Well, if you’re at a political rally, or fundraiser for a particular party, that perception may reflect a different dynamic altogether. According to newresearch, women are more likely to find a man attractive if they share political viewpoints.
Furthermore, the study, published in the journal Political Behavior, finds that both men and women tend to discount the looks of those in the opposing political camp. It seems partisanship has not only influenced our choice of neighborhoods and grocery stores; it has also affected our perception of hotness.
“Politics affects how physically attractive we find others,” writes a research team led by political scientist Stephen Nicholson of the University of California-Merced. “Whether a person shares our candidate preference affects the extent to which we view that person as physically attractive.”
The study was conducted in October 2012, as the previous presidential campaign was reaching its climax. The researchers utilized a nationally representative survey of 859 American adults, all of whom reportedly identified as either a Democrat or a Republican, or leaned toward either of the two major parties.
Each participant was then shown a photograph of the “target person” — a member of the opposite sex who had previously been rated as “moderately attractive.” Alongside the image were a series of adjectives describing the person, including “friendly” and “smart.”
For about one-third of participants, the person was also labeled “an Obama supporter.” Another third saw a version in which he or she was labeled “a Romney supporter,” while the final third was given no information on the person’s political leanings.
Participants then rated the person’s looks on a seven-point scale from “extremely attractive” to “extremely unattractive.” The results suggest the news that someone belongs to the other political party greatly dampens our appreciation for their looks.
In highly partisan times, we view even facial features through a partisan lens.
When political affiliation went unmentioned, “Democratic and Republican males found the female target equally attractive,” the researchers report. “Likewise, female Democrats and Republicans found the male target equally attractive. Yet by injecting politics into the mix of considerations, we found that Democrats and Republicans judged the target persons differently.”
“Democratic women found a male Obama supporter significantly more attractive than Republican women,” they add, “and the opposite was found when the male target was presumed to support the Republican candidate, Mitt Romney. The pattern of results was the same for Democratic and Republican men.”
The researchers found one significant split along gender lines. Both male and female partisans rated the target individuals as less attractive if they preferred a different presidential candidate. But only women were more likely to rate the person as more attractive if he agreed that Barack Obama (or Mitt Romney) was the man.
“This finding appears consistent with evolutionary psychology research that suggests women are more discriminating than men in both long- and short-term relationships,” the researchers write.
True enough, but the overall results suggest our dislike of members of the other party is stronger than our favoritism for fellow Republicans or Democrats. Nicholson and his colleagues note that, while many Americans “half-heartedly identify with parties,” they “are much less conflicted about the negative feelings they hold toward the out-party.”
In other words, we may not be too crazy about our own politicians, but we really hate those on the other side — to the point where we find people who affiliate with them less attractive than we otherwise would.
So, liberal ladies, this may provide a clue as to what you saw in that Bernie Bro. And guys, it helps explain why you’re turned on by Tina Fey, and turned off by Sarah Palin — or vice-versa. Sure, the former Alaska governor and the comedian look pretty similar, but in highly partisan times, we view even facial features through a partisan lens.