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Media Release

July 16 2010

New study reveals Australians may vote on face value

Voter at the ballot boxNew research that has predicted election results based on little more than a candidate’s photo suggests that voter’s decisions may be skin deep.

A study conducted by the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute at the University of South Australia has successfully predicted election results by simply asking people to judge mocked up election posters.

The research was conducted prior to the 2008 NSW and Victorian by-elections with 178 Adelaide residents being asked to look at a political poster and make judgements about the candidate’s competency, trustworthiness, likeability and attractiveness.

Despite not knowing anything about the policies, personality or background of the NSW candidates, the SA survey participant results were an extraordinary match.

In 94 per cent of cases the candidate who received a more popular score in the visual test actually went on to win the real election by popular vote.

Katherine Anderson, a Research Associate at the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute who worked on the study said that the accuracy of selections was surprising, considering that participants knew next to nothing about the candidates.

“Survey participants were from South Australia so we can assume they knew nothing about the NSW and Victorian candidates other than what was on the poster we showed them - the candidate’s photo, name and party,” she said.

“The results suggest that people may judge a book by its cover when voting, selecting candidates based on attributes perceived from their physical appearance.”

Participants were shown digital images of political posters on an iPhone, with nearly 7000 judgements collected from Adelaide residents, which were later compared to the actual results from the election.

The best factor for predicting the outcome was perceived ‘competency’, with 63 per cent of candidates whose poster received a higher score for ‘looks competent’ than their opponent going on to win more votes in the election.

Similar research used to predict results in the US presidential primaries, congressional and gubernatorial races also found ‘competency’ to be the best trait for predicting success in the political arena.

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