Best-looking politicians lean Right, best-looking scholars lean Left

In politics, Right-leaning politicians are in general physically more attractive, but in academia it is the other way around. A new study conducted at the Swedish School of Social Science at the University of Helsinki argues that Right-leaning politicians are more highly rewarded for attractive looks than Left-leaning politicians.

Previous research by Berggren, Jordahl and Poutvaara (2015) shows that in elections run in Australia, the European Union, Finland and the United States, Right-leaning politicians are generally more attractive than Left-leaning politicians. The current study by Professor Jan-Erik Lönnqvist shows that this applies specifically to politicians and does not mean that Right-leaning people on the whole are more attractive.

In order to investigate whether Right-leaning people are more attractive generally speaking, Lönnqvist examined Right-leaning scholars to see if they, too, were more attractive than their Left-leaning counterparts. Politicians and academics are comparable in many aspects such as age, level of education, social status and a place in the public eye.

“When it comes to a career in academia, however, looks do not appear to be of any great importance.”

Left-leaning scholars more attractive

The results of the study show that Left-leaning scholars are perceived as more attractive than their Right-leaning colleagues. Right-leaning scholars are often better groomed, however. The results indicate that looks matter a great deal in politics, and that especially politicians on the Right benefit from being physically attractive.

“The fact that Left-leaning scholars are perceived as better-looking is no cause for alarm,” Lönnqvist says. “What is worrying, however, is the high degree of importance attached to looks in political elections.”

The primary reason that politicians on the Right look better than politicians on the Left could be that good looks have, within Right-leaning parties, more of an influence on the processes through which electoral candidates are selected and on the electoral success of the candidates.

“The results of my study are in concordance with other studies that show that the effect of attractive looks is twice as large for politicians on the Right compared to their counterparts on the Left,” says Lönnqvist.

On the whole, physical attractiveness has a positive effect on a person’s success and is associated with positive qualities. Attractive people earn more money, are treated better, achieve a higher social status and are happier. But the better informed the constituents, the lesser the effect of looks on election results.

“One possible reason for the greater influence of looks on Right-wing constituents could be that they are less informed. Previous research has also shown that conservative voters have a more concrete, perhaps less sophisticated way of thinking,” Lönnqvist says.

Lönnqvist wishes voters would become more aware of the extent to which looks subconsciously influence voting behaviour. Voting advice applications are a good aid to help voters decide whom to vote for.

Four hundred scholars assessed

For the purpose of the study, the hundred most recent authors for each of four highbrow American magazines were selected, four hundred scholars in total. The magazines Claremont Review of Books and First Things were identified as Right-leaning, and the New York Review of Books and The Humanist Magazine were identified as Left-leaning. These magazines were identified by many sources as belonging to the most prominent and influential ideologically toned intellectual magazines.

Based on the magazine they had published in, half of the scholars were identified as Right-leaning and the other half as Left-leaning. The best possible portrait pictures of each scholar were obtained. Based on the portrait photographs, research assistants were then given the task of rating each scholar on three items: physical attractiveness, placement on the continuum Right–Left and placement on the continuum Conservative–Liberal. Physically more attractive scholars were more likely to appear in Left-leaning journals.

Right-leaning scholars were also perceived to have conservative values, while scholars perceived as Left-leaning were also considered liberal.

The study “Just because you look good, doesn’t mean you’re right” was published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences.

Additional source: Berggren, N., Jordahl, H. & Poutvaara, P. (2015). “The right look: Conservative politicians look better and voters reward it.”

Additional information:

Jan-Erik Lönnqvist

Professor of Social Psychology at the Swedish School of Social Science, University of Helsinki.

E-mail:, tel. 0504154567