Thursday, March 3, 2011

Are Conservatives Better-Looking Than Liberals?

 Donald Rumsfeld totally knew how to party in the Ford years!

Finally, my secret, shameful crush on Donald Rumsfeld* is explained! A Scandinavian study reports that right-leaning political candidates were judged as better-looking than their lefty counterparts. Photos of small-time Finnish council candidates--1,357 of them--were rated on a 1-5 scale by Brits and Americans (who, presumably, don’t keep tabs on names and faces of small-time Finnish council candidates, thus removing political bias from the study participants). 

Handsome little Rumsy aside, this makes no sense to me. I want to believe that our looks don’t actually have an influence on our values, but this flies in the face of that. Thoughts on why: 

1) Ca$h. In the U.S., even though overall the average Democrat is wealthier than the average Republican, the income spread is greater with conservatives--the richer you are the more likely you are to vote Republican. It follows, then, that if you’ve got loads of cash to drop on hallmarks of beauty that can be purchased--plastic surgery, dermatology care, access to ample leisure time, expensive grooming and upkeep (highlights?)--maybe you’re Republican. 

But Finland is unlike us in that regard. (And others, unless there’s an American heavy metal Lutheran mass I don’t know about.) The small size of the country dictates that political parties are forced to work together more than ours, and its enforced proportional representation means that it’s not a country nearly as divided as we are. I couldn’t find numbers on which party members were wealthier--but overall Finland’s income disparity is far lower than ours. Still, the moolah theory could hold true in the States, though, I maintain. (That is, if the same results would apply to American politicians, which they might not. Also, nearly 40% of Finland's MPs are women--rock on with your Finnish selves!--which might alter the results from being about appearance to being more specifically about female beauty.)

2) Even though the National Coalition Party--most conservative Finnish party--is probably laughably liberal by American standards, the bootstraps ethos holds strong, with individual responsibility topping the list of party values. Given that people perceived as attractive make more money, suffer less discrimination, and smell of daffodils--all without any effort on their part--I do wonder if some people born “attractive” (symmetrical features, clear skin, meeting height-weight expectations) might not recognize that not everything that comes their way is because of their hard work.  

This hasn’t been my personal experience with conventionally attractive women--my Helen of Troy gal pals are generally aware of the perks that come with beauty and have a conflicted relationship with those perks (and in fact know that oftentimes they aren’t perks at all). That said, the very definition of privilege is not knowing you have it. So I could see how for some people who might have had crueler lessons earlier in life that might have taught them that hard work and a good mind aren’t all that matter in this world--but didn’t get those lessons because of their appearance--you really might not be able to understand why some people actually do need welfare and other protections that liberal governments favor.

3) One of the study researchers, Niclas Berggren, posits this: “One explanation is that people who are seen or consider themselves to be beautiful tend to be more anti-egalitarian and hence more attracted to right-wing politics.” I wonder about this. My knee-jerk reaction is that while our own appearance shapes how we view the world, that it wouldn’t have such a unified effect as to make our genetic champions actually think that they were deserving of more worldly goods because of their beauty. That goes double for women--there’s such a hefty price tag attached to anything regarding our appearance that I just don’t buy that women would actually make such a simple equation. Maybe I’m being too generous, though, or maybe I’m only paying attention to the stories of individuals whose values go against the expected.

What do you think? Are conventionally attractive people unaware of their privilege, potentially leading them to a more conservative mind-set? Or are they so hyperaware of that privilege that they extend it beyond beauty and into a political realm that favors the haves over the have-nots?

*Not Donald Rumsfeld, the former Secretary of Defense, mind you--but Donald Rumsfeld, the man. If you just sort of close off your mind for a second, he's weirdly cute, admit it.


  1. I wonder how Finns compare to Americans in attractiveness in general. All the Finns I've met are traditionally American attractive (blonde hair, blue eyes).


  2. Yep--it's a fair country, and I'm guessing that if Finland's economic situation were closer to that of, say, Belarus instead of Sweden, we'd be seeing a lot more Finn girls coming over here to model.

    I wonder how darker, more "exotic" types are treated there too--would, say, Salma Hayek be seen as exotic in a negative way or in a fetishized lady-of-the-night way? Hmm.

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