Our Alexandra DeSanctis writes today about how Democratic congressional candidate and likely Representative-elect Conor Lamb was perceived to be a moderate on cultural issues, while opposing just about any restriction on abortion.
I’m starting to wonder how many voters’ perception of a candidate’s ideology is based on a very unreliable assessment of the candidate’s aesthetics. Lamb’s biography includes some experiences that voters might be more likely to associate with right-of-center candidates — attended Catholic schools, four years in the Marines, four years as a federal prosecutor and assistant U.S. attorney. When people picture a generic Republican congressional candidate, they probably picture someone who looks like Lamb — tall, blue blazer and tie, close-cropped haircut.
Alexandra notes Lamb didn’t list abortion as an issue on his web site during most of the campaign. In some voters’ eyes, Lamb looked and sounded like the kind of guy who would be pro-life, and the candidate was happy to leave that misperception in place.
It’s silly to blame a 20-point swing from 2016 on Rick Saccone’s mustache, as some unidentified GOP consultant did. But candidates’ appearances matter. Back in 2006, as the midterm elections approached, the Washington Post wrote that Democrats could have an advantage because their candidates were more handsome:
Maybe Democratic candidate Michael Arcuri is running strong in this Republican House district because he pledges to expand health coverage, balance the budget and raise the minimum wage.
Or maybe it’s his piercing Italian eyes and runner’s physique . . .
The research is unambiguous that Ferrin is right: Attractive politicians have an edge over not-so-attractive ones. The phenomenon is resonating especially this year. By a combination of luck and design, Democrats seem to be fielding an uncommonly high number of uncommonly good-looking candidates.
The beauty gap between the parties, some on Capitol Hill muse, could even be a factor in who controls Congress after Election Day.
Democratic operatives do not publicly say that they went out of their way this year to recruit candidates with a high hotness quotient. Privately, however, they acknowledge that, as they focused on finding the most dynamic politicians to challenge vulnerable Republicans, it did not escape their notice that some of the most attractive prospects were indeed often quite attractive.
Arcuri’s “piercing Italian eyes and runner’s physique” came up short in the 2010 midterms four years later.
This occasionally works the other way, too. During the 2008 campaign, quite a few pro-choice voters thought John McCain was pro-choice, despite a pretty consistent pro-life voting record. But McCain had butted heads with his own party’s leadership so many times, and had a fight with the National Right to Life Committee over the McCain-Feingold campaign-finance law. He had a complicated relationship with the era’s most prominent pro-life figure, President George W. Bush. I suspect that to some pro-choice voters, because McCain seemed so reasonable in their eyes, so different from all of those other knuckle-dragging Republicans, they concluded he just had to be pro-choice like they were.