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Good Looking? Run for Congress

Better-looking members of Congress get more TV coverage, perhaps because it brings better ratings, according to a new Haifa Univ. study.
By Tzvi Ben Gedalyahu
First Publish: 12/6/2011, 2:17 PM

Ohio Sen. Brown -- Good looks help?
Ohio Sen. Brown -- Good looks help?
Office of Sen. Brown

Better-looking members of Congress get more TV coverage, perhaps because TV journalists think viewers want to see good-looking people, according to a new University of Haifa study.

The research, published in the journal Political Communication, concluded, "Physical appearance ranked third in the criteria for gaining television coverage, and ranked higher than seniority, position in Congress and legislative activity in this respect.”

The study shows that physical attractiveness has an effect on television exposure: the better looking the politician, the more TV coverage he or she gains. Yet no significant effect was found for radio or printed news coverage.

Following congresspersons’ congressional activity and their state’s size, physical attractiveness is the third strongest predictor of TV coverage, scoring slightly higher than chamber of Congress, gender, tenure in office, bills sponsored and political standing. After weighting the various factors playing into media exposure, the study found that for every additional score on the “physical attractiveness index,” the politician’s television exposure rises by 11.6 percent.

Dr. Yisrael Waismel-Manor and Prof. Yariv Tsfati asked 463 Israeli students to rank the physical attractiveness of members of the 110th United States Congress (2007), based on the official photographs posted on Congress's website.

The authors chose that year for its distance from elections, which could otherwise influence media coverage. Israeli students were chosen for this, so as to eliminate the possibility of biases stemming from political views or previous knowledge of congressmen, both of which could influence an objective judgment of physical attractiveness.

The researchers also compared the Israeli ranking to a ranking given by 30 American students in order to determine that the Israeli assessment of “good looks” is not culturally different from the American judgment.

The researchers also eliminated other possible biases by not including in the survey politicians who were running for president, Speaker of the House and the majority and minority leaders in Congress.

Television coverage was surveyed from ABC, CBS, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, NBC and PBS. The radio coverage measure was comprised of all NPR news radio programs, while the newspaper measure includes all articles that appeared in USA Today.