Skip to main content
Predicting Election Outcomes from Positive and Negative Trait Assessments of Candidate Images
Political Psychology (2010)
  • Kyle Mattes
  • Michael Spezio
  • Kim Hackjin
  • Todorov Alexander
  • Adolphs Ralph
  • Alvarez R.
Conventional wisdom, and a growing body of behavioral research, suggests that the nonverbal image of a candidate influences voter decision making. We presented subjects with images of political candidates and asked them to make four trait judgments based solely on viewing the photographs. Subjects were asked which of the two faces exhibited more competence, attractiveness, deceitfulness, and threat, which are arguably four of the most salient attributes that can be conveyed by faces. When we compared our subjects' choices to the actual election outcomes, we found that the candidates chosen as more likely to physically threaten the subjects actually lost 65% of the real elections. As expected, our findings support the conclusions of Todorov, Mandisodza, Goren, and Hall (2005 ) by showing a positive correlation between the competence judgments and the real election outcomes. Surprisingly, attractiveness was correlated with losing elections, with the effect being driven by faces of candidates who looked politically incompetent yet personally attractive. Our findings have implications for future research on negative political communication, as they suggest that both threatening first impressions and fleeting impressions of attractiveness can harm a candidate's electoral chances.
  • campaigning,
  • competence,
  • elections
Publication Date
February, 2010
Publisher Statement
•Please see former John Wiley & Sons and Blackwell Publishing policies for articles published prior to February 2007 •Self-archiving rights vary between journals, please check individual journal policies before depositing •On author website, employers website/repository and on free public servers in subject area •Publisher's version/PDF cannot be used •Publisher source must be acknowledged with citation •Must link to publisher version with set statement [The definitive version is available at]
Citation Information
Kyle Mattes, Michael Spezio, Kim Hackjin, Todorov Alexander, et al.. "Predicting Election Outcomes from Positive and Negative Trait Assessments of Candidate Images" Political Psychology Vol. 31 Iss. 1 (2010)
Available at: