Talk Less, Smile More? The Role of Candidates’ Physical Attributes and Facial Expressions in Elections


In recent years the personalization of politics has been widely discussed as a global trend that is heavily facilitated by visual cues since well-known politicians are frequently covered on the news and curate their own social media accounts. On a local level, campaign posters often feature district candidates and therefore provide visual cues for voters. In some countries, candidates’ photographs can even be seen on voting ballots. Thus, this study focuses on citizens’ perceptions of candidates and candidate characteristics in order to explain the candidates’ electoral success. Attributes such as candidates’ party membership, gender, ethnic background as well as their physical attractiveness and facial expressions are considered for explaining electoral success in Germany and Ireland. Candidates’ facial expressions are measured by human ratings as well as machine classifications, compared, and subsequently considered in the analysis. The results indicate that physical attractiveness and facial expressions on campaign posters and voting ballots can impact candidate perceptions and vote shares as a result. Thereby this study shows that candidate appearances play an important role in elections, most likely by providing information shortcuts for voters. Furthermore, it supports the notion that the personalization of politics occurs even in parliamentary systems with proportional electoral systems.