Voting for a candidate is not about policy or experience -- it's about charisma, researchers find

Oct 30, 2008 By George Lowery

(PhysOrg.com) -- In a matter of seconds, voters can decide -- based on their perception of a candidate's charisma -- which of two candidates will win a race. About 60 percent of the time, they are correct, according to a new study.

Researchers assembled 264 volunteers who watched 10-second silent video clips from debates between gubernatorial candidates unknown to the viewers. The volunteers then made a series of judgments about the candidates' likeability, leadership qualities, party affiliation and which candidate they thought would win.

The volunteers were "remarkably accurate in getting it right about 60 percent of the time, which is strongly statistically significant," said Daniel J. Benjamin, an assistant professor of economics at Cornell whose study, co-authored with the University of Chicago's Jesse M. Shapiro, will be published in a future issue of The Review of Economics and Statistics.

"It's a gut feeling based on the clips," Benjamin said. "What we were getting from subjects' ratings of these 10 seconds is some measure of the charisma that these candidates exude, and I think in elections undecided voters choose based on these kinds of factors."

Although loyal Democrats or Republicans tend to vote for their own party's candidate, people who are undecided make their decision based on something else. "I think a big part of that something else is the perception of charisma, which we're measuring," Benjamin said.

Benjamin is a behavioral economist, a branch of economics that draws on psychology and originated at Cornell in the 1980s with the work of Richard Thaler, now at the University of Chicago and a consultant to the Obama campaign.

"What's novel about what we did was to introduce methodology from psychology to measure the relative charisma of the candidates, and also we measured how important charisma was relative to other factors normally studied by economists and political scientists," said Benjamin.

In his work at Cornell, Benjamin collaborates with economists and psychologists in the College of Arts and Sciences, the Johnson School, the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and the College of Human Ecology.

The title of Benjamin's paper, "Thin-Slice Forecasts of Gubernatorial Elections," refers to a body of literature in psychology about using the "thin slice" technique of using short video clips to measure snap judgments about the person in the clip. This research -- summarized in Malcolm Gladwell's 2005 book "Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking" -- has demonstrated that students who watch a few seconds of video of a teacher can predict his or her end-of-semester evaluations, and people who listen to a few seconds of doctors talking to patients can predict who will be sued for malpractice.

Provided by Cornell University

Explore further: How to better allocate research money and fix a flawed system

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Government publishes UK Antarctic science strategy

9 minutes ago

A framework document, 'UK Science in Antarctica 2014-2020,' is published today (Wednesday 16 July). Prepared by the UK National Committee for Antarctic Research on behalf of the UK Antarctic community it ...

NASA's ten-year-old Aura satellite tracks pollutants

39 minutes ago

(Phys.org) —NASA's Aura satellite, celebrating its 10th anniversary on July 15, has provided vital data about the cause, concentrations and impact of major air pollutants. With instruments providing key ...

New tool, savings for manufacturing hard materials

41 minutes ago

"Machining," in particular the process of cutting hard, brittle materials during manufacturing, can be difficult, often because the cutting tool, typically made of single crystal diamond, the hardest material ...

Recommended for you

How to win a Tour de France sprint

8 hours ago

The final dash to the line in a Tour de France sprint finish may appear to the bystander to be a mess of bodies trying to cram into the width of a road, but there is a high degree of strategy involved. It ...

Bible museum planned for US capital

Jul 18, 2014

The devout Christian family that upended a part of President Barack Obama's health care law aims to open a Bible museum in Washington in 2017, a spokesperson for the project said Friday.

The science behind Tour de France's hide-and-seek tactics

Jul 15, 2014

When the Tour de France comes to town, it's a chance to get your gladrags on. This year's Grand Depart in Yorkshire saw Leeds decked out with yellow flowers, bikes placed in coffee bar windows, statues wearing ...

User comments : 0