Does it matter what our politicians look like?

Italian opposition leader Silvio Berlusconi has caused a bit of a stir suggesting that right-wing female politicians in Italy are “more beautiful” than their left-wing counterparts. True or not, does it actually matter what the people in power look like? Would you vote for an unattractive person?

The UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown has been criticised for his appearance in recent months, compare that to the slick good looks of Barack Obama who is vying for the Democratic Presidential nomination in the United States. Does it matter what men look like, while women are still expected to conform? And do we vote for style over substance?

32 Responses to “Does it matter what our politicians look like?”

  1. April 10, 2008 at 13:19

    While I am a Libertarian, I could care less what a politician looks like. The important thing is the message and the ability to govern in times of peace and crisis.

  2. 2 Sean in Beijing
    April 10, 2008 at 14:16

    Although I feel I can rise above this, I am sad to say that the electorate seems to care more about looks and small personal quirks and little about actual policies.

    Policy discussions are almost non-existent this year. I think that the media is to blame for this.

  3. 3 VictorK
    April 10, 2008 at 14:26

    I hate to say it but I suspect that there may be a male-female divide on this.

    I think women are more likely to be affected by a candidate’s appearance than men. I’ve no hard evidence for this, but I know plenty of men who would (a) remark on a female candidate’s attractiveness and then (b) vote according to the bread-and-butter issues important to them; and I’ve come across far more women who would (a) remark on a male candidate’s attractiveness and then (b) dwell on a male candidate’s attractiveness. A British politician once explained his opposition to women in the higher civil service by the danger that their advice would be tainted by their personal feelings for the Minister they were working for. It’s a comparative point, but I think women are more prone (however marginally) to such a failing than men (when did you last hear of a female politician having sexual relations with her staff?).

    You need a sociobiologist on to draw out any Darwinian significance in this.

  4. 4 selena
    April 10, 2008 at 14:30

    I don’t think looks matter so much as charisma and a good rousing speech, which everyone knows is a lie but can’t help themselves from admiring anyway.

  5. April 10, 2008 at 14:32

    Yes, it matters! You do not want your politician to look sloppy and to be too much overweight! He or she is someone to look to as a good expample. At the same time I don’t think the politician has to have a pretty face! He or she has to be smart, elegant, and clean.

    For people who are commenting on George W. Bush, they don’t know that George W. Bush is one of the greatest Presidents. I am very proud that he is My president and wish that he can run for another four years.! China would be honored to have him there.

  6. 6 steve
    April 10, 2008 at 14:48

    I cannot tell you how many women I have heard say they are voting for Obama because they think he is “cute”.

  7. April 10, 2008 at 14:59

    we should not elect our political leaders based upon how they look. we should elect them because of their intelligence, character, honesty, dedication to uphold the laws of the country and ability to lead. physical looks should never come into it.

  8. 8 Katharina in Ghent
    April 10, 2008 at 15:02

    I don’t think that looks matter too much, otherwise Berlusconi himself would have a much harder time πŸ˜‰ If a politician is *really* ugly, then that can influence his career in a negative way, but generally politicians don’t need to look like supermodels to qualify for the job, that’s not what they are paid for. To address the gender issue: it probably still is more important for female politicians to “look good” than for men, but that is still relative, Madeleine Albright did not look like the prom queen and was still very successful.

  9. 9 steve
    April 10, 2008 at 15:29

    Madeleine Albright was an appointee, not an elected official. It’s not so much a popularity contest like an elected official has. I see a huge commonality with people who strove to be popular in high school and politicians. It’s all approval seeking behavior, narcissism. Hence why I’ve always been negative in my views of politicians and think if anyone thinks that politicians are anything but self serving, you are fooling yourself.

  10. April 10, 2008 at 15:43

    It matters indeed. Mostly because of First impression. If I look at any person, doesn’t have to be a politician, I like to see a trustful face, a peace full face.

    If you look at society, sadly it is true, that beautiful people, or good looking individuals are more successful in business, society then what we call “ugly” or bad dressers.

    I know many of you will think; no not me, I am the most honest person around, I really don’t careless about looks. Well think again. If you have a choice between of a person of your liking and a person that won’t attracted you at all, I am definitely sure you will first get in contact with the person who you think looks nice, has an open-face and maybe the choice of who looks powerful.
    The last word Powerful is key to me for a politician. Our current prime minister, wow I won’t see him any where around a negotiation table. He just doesn’t look powerful enough and I would just start laugh at him.
    But thats all first impression. Of course a good politician has to have good quality. Someone who knows what he or she is doing. So with me its all about combi, great appearance and to know how to handle issues and to conduct a good policy.

  11. 11 Miguel Suarez
    April 10, 2008 at 15:56

    We all may say that looks do not affect who we vote for. But thuth is, according to Malcom Gladwell in his book Blink!, that we look for a role model in all terms. We try to find someone that is confident, good looking, secure, intelligent, and someone who can achieve… Therefore, our subconcious will find a perfect picture and that will surely impact our decision.

    For instance, try thinking of a bad looking, unkempt USA president. There arent any, are they?

  12. 12 Sandra Patricia, Colombia
    April 10, 2008 at 16:06

    Hello! πŸ™‚

    Most people say that physical appearance is not important, but it is. It should never be the main reason to vote for a candidate, but it affects somehow the perception people have about him/her. As Smackie said, it’s the effect of first impression: Usually to sell a product we need a stereotype in the person who is offering it, and politics works exactly in the same way. A politician doesn’t have to sell only good ideas but also his/her image, which must be credible to people (that’s why they always smile when they are with adults and kids). And it happens specially with women, because bald men are still accepted in society, for example, but never fat women. Obviously any of them has to be too attractive, but has to be clean and elegant because it also shows somehow the way they rule :P. It’s about manipulating the electors’ psychology… Now, look at some of the most memorable world leaders in human history: they were not attractive at all, but their very smart policies and their revolutionary ideas changed their society! And that’s the kind of governor people should look for. However, I think they are not in Earth anymore.

  13. 13 Justin from Iowa
    April 10, 2008 at 16:12

    I care how they look insofar as how their dress and appearance and tidyness are responsive to their audience and activities. Dress and hygiene describe more upon a person. So while issues drive who I vote for, I do try to pay attention to appearance to a degree as well.

  14. 14 Peter Gizzi UK
    April 10, 2008 at 16:13

    Sadly it does with our media led world. It shouldn’t.

    Some of our best politicians were not the best looking. Think of Chirchill.

  15. 15 steve
    April 10, 2008 at 16:25


    Bald men are still “accepted” by society? Are you suggesting that society should make them outcases? At least with fat women, bald men have no control over their hairloss. A fat woman could diet and exercise and lose weight. She has control over it. That’s like saying that we should take into account someone’s eye color or height, other things that people have no control over. Sorry to break it to you, but people do have control over their weight. If people l et it get out of control, it does reflect on them.

  16. 16 Will Rhodes
    April 10, 2008 at 16:26

    I think it matters not what someone looks like.

    They should have the intelligence to lead, whether man or woman. They should have the determination to complete the job they have been voted to do.

    Glamorising politicians just seems so wrong to me – but celebrity gets the headlines and these days politicians want the headlines.

  17. April 10, 2008 at 16:35

    I will respond to the above question by paraphrasing the words from a previous blog about what women would should wear, which I thought said it so well. People who do not take care in their appearance, certainly insofar as dress go, lack style, tact and grace. Very instructive, I think on any occassion, not the least among them politics. It would seem to me that any efforts to suggest that people do not like looking at attractive people – however that is defined, is to misrepresent reality at its most basic.

    After all, our eyes are often drawn, for better or worse, to an attractive visage, even if that means that we know very little about the personal politics/ character of the person in question. Indeed, we may alter our opinions over time, however, given continued exposure to other elements of their personality, etc.

    It would seem to me, then, that how a politician or public figure looks is absolutely critical if he or she is to survive the constant scrutiny to which they are subjected in the contemporary era of Instant Message and High Definition TV…My two cents worth!

  18. 18 George USA
    April 10, 2008 at 16:57

    Chew your arm off ugly (CYAOU) is not equipment for public office.

    (CYAOU- is defined as a woman you find in a bar, wake the next morning and CYAO rather than wake her)

    Other than that extreme, reasonable looks are very helpful.

    Another factor just as important is voice.

    A shrill voice and harping manner is not attractive (Hillary).

    But we have seen a President unable to form a sentence or use words correctly

    may be placed in office.

  19. 19 savane
    April 10, 2008 at 17:00

    Are we seriously blogging about this?

    When Kenyan politicians actually work to work for Kenya and Kenyans, and not for their personal/party/ethnic gains, I still won’t use their appearance as criteria for my vote and support. I’m looking for substance.

    Look at it this way, if I were blind, it would be irrelevant! I’m sighted I it’s still irrelevant.

    Nairobi Kenya

  20. April 10, 2008 at 17:06

    It shouldn’t matter… I mean look at our up and comming ones… Obama has huge ears which stick out, McCain looks like he is already decomposing, and Hillary has saggy cheeks and is just… well…. ugly.

    Bush is certainly no hottie either.

    Unfortunately looks will always have some sort of precedence in politics. The extremes will always be discriminated against under the table.

    Brett ~ Richmond, Va.

  21. 21 steve
    April 10, 2008 at 17:29

    @ Brett:

    Come up to DC more often. It’s called “hollywood for ugly people” for a reason. Narcissms, status, power and money “compensates” for looks when it comes to politics. I must warn you, everyone you meet here will ask you 2 questions, possibly followed by a third, all geared to gauge your level of status:

    (1) where are you from? (presumes you aren’t from DC. I’m one of the few natives around here)

    (2) What do you do?

    depending on your answer to (2)

    (3) where did you go to grad school?

    Gotta love this town, it’s so predictable.

  22. 22 nicholas kariuki muthaara frm embu/kenya
    April 10, 2008 at 18:47

    good look is no use in politics what is needed is brain.beautiful leaders charms people like obama’

  23. 23 Janet T
    April 10, 2008 at 18:48

    Steve- “I cannot tell you how many women I have heard say they are voting for Obama because they think he is β€œcute”.”

    is this worse than my father-in-law not voting for Hillary because she has a vagina? (his words, not mine!)

  24. April 10, 2008 at 19:42

    Permit me to make another entry. Janet T, I do believe the differences are real in the case of the comments made by your father-in-law and the women who comment on whether Barrack Obama is “cute”.

    The reality is that the gender politics is so insidiously entreched in the West that people feel that there is no real distinction between these comments. Women are generally the ones expected to not “let down the side” in terms of their physical appearances. They are under greater pressures to be “beautiful” and “feminine”, which I think is part of what hurts the Hilary Clinton Campaign, though there is more to why she is not as popular as Senator Obama, based on the current polls.

    In some peoples’ views, Senator Clinton is not ‘the most beautiful’, fortunately, or not; and she is widely seen as a divisive (read unfeminine, in this context). The two things together largely do not work in her favour. Men, on the other hand, get an easier time of it – black or white, as well as all the other colours in between.

    Of course, in Senator Obama’s case he has good looks, good oratory skills and an education of the highest quality as part of his social and political capital. “Mickey Mouse ears” aside, as I have heard them called, his politics of change and the need for America to make meaningful adjustments to its foreign policy is a winsome one for many. He is widely felt to embody the best of both worlds, as a result – bright and attractive!

    In the case of Berlusconi, however, I would want to think that such a comment made by him is to be viewed with some suspicion regarding his motives. Are the women in power, specifically those on the right, there to entertain him and the other politicians/ Italian men? Or are they elected to serve their country to the best of their abilities regardless? Makes you wonder, what his intentions were, no?

    It should not be a coded requirement for public participation, however, good looks (again, however you define that) is almost always an underlying feature in these relations of power. Sadly!

  25. 25 Sandra Patricia, Colombia
    April 10, 2008 at 20:13

    Dear Steve,

    Hello! πŸ™‚ You are completely right when you say that women can control their weight and men cannot control thier bald. What I wanted to point out is that usually women are more critisised than men because of their physical appearance, in politics, showbiz or any other situation. However, any public figure is under pressure, and politicians are not the exception.
    Another aspect is people voting for someone because is white or black, woman or man, young or old, christian or muslim… What about their proposals? What about the things they’ve done for their country before (not only in campaign)? Unfortunately we humans are still too superficial for the brain we’ve been given…

    Bye! πŸ™‚

  26. 26 Laura in Minneapolis
    April 10, 2008 at 21:16

    Steve- I know a lot of men and women who would say getting hair plugs is a lot easier (and possibly cheaper) than losing 30 pounds πŸ™‚

    Looks shouldn’t matter, but they do. In a perfect world, intelligence, ability to lead, and what not would be the most important factors. We don’t live in that world. It’s a lot like how race, gender, etc shouldn’t matter… but they do to a lot of people.

    Laura in Minneapolis

  27. 27 Ana Milena, Colombia
    April 11, 2008 at 05:32

    “But we have seen a President unable to form a sentence or use words correctly”
    *LOL* πŸ™‚

    In some countries, it does affect. If not, just take a look at the politics crew in most of the countries – mainly in countries where there’s a wide variety of races. You’ll rarely see outstanding politicians with average features and, if there are, they’re not as recognised as those with “presence”.


  28. 28 Ros Atkins
    April 11, 2008 at 13:06

    Hi Ros, and others at WHYS.

    “Does it matter what politicians look like?” Unfortunately, the answer to this question in today’s increasingly empty and narcissistic society is, yes. We have singers who can’t sing, but look great. We have newscasters, who seem to have fallen off of soap opera sets — they are beautiful & stunning. They can’t read their tele-prompters, much less provide useful news analysis, but who cares? They look terrific. And why not provide a pearly, dazzling smile after reporting on a slaughter in Africa, as long as you follow up with a cute animal or baby story. Awww, they’re sooo cute!

    So why not politicians?

    I only want beautiful, good-looking politicians, whose hair won’t move in a hurricane. I want honey soaked, comforting phrases to trip off of their lips like a golden rain of valium. I want my politician to be able to stand up to the pore-bursting scrutiny offered by the miraculous triumphs of HDTV. And when my politicians fail to meet my exacting standards, I will be terribly hurt. I will take their sloppy inattention to mannequin-like perfection as a personal insult. I will change the channel and they will be gone, replaced by a more pleasing image on Entertainment Tonight.

    Scott in the States

  29. 29 steve
    April 11, 2008 at 14:42


    I disagree. I think men are criticized more by society in general, whereas women criticize other women more, because of competitiveness. If you ever see who is mocked most in society (TV shows, etc) it’s balding, overweight, short, men. Think George Castanza. If we’re talking attractive politicians, honestly, there aren’t many. I think Mary Landrieu is probably the only attractive woman in Congress (if she’s even still there), I wouldn’t know about the men, but they tend to be older, creepyish looking (though some people are attracted to power).. I cannot say that female prime ministers have been knockouts. So I suppose if you don’t have leprosy your looks probably don’t matter much as a politician so long as you’ve got money. Being surrounded by them for my entire life, I tend to know more than your average person about what they are like, and no amount of physical attractiveness can make up for the kind of person who seeks office.

  30. 30 Ros Atkins
    April 11, 2008 at 18:57

    Nope, I dont think its all that important. Their ability in growing the country is.

    However, greater looks do tend to greater charisma and greater support.

  31. 31 Tatyana
    April 15, 2008 at 18:03

    I think the question isn’t simple
    And it should be discussed
    I think it so important is
    As it was in the past.

    Imagine a leader of the country,
    Who so stout is…
    He’s so serious,with wrinkles,
    One wants to say him “Cheese!”

    He wears so expensive suit
    But’s not tastefully dressed,
    And you compare him of course
    With those of the rest.

    And just another leader here
    The difference is so vivid, clear:
    The other one is older much,
    But he is smart and lean.
    He smiles and is neatly dressed,
    Of course this one will win!
    If you are a leader, should be fit
    And set a good example, indeed!

  32. 32 Dennis Young, Jr.
    May 8, 2008 at 23:06

    i don’t care what the political figure has
    good figures!

    Dennis~Madrid, United States of America

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