Department of Political Science

Winning Faces Vary by Ideology: How Nonverbal Source Cues Influence Election and Communication Success in Politics

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Not just the content of a communication but also the source of the communication shapes its persuasiveness. Recent research in political communication suggests that important source cues are nonverbal and relate to the physical traits of the source such that attractive- and competent-looking sources have better success in attracting votes and policy support. Yet, are all nonverbal source cues similarly received irrespective of audience, or does their reception vary across audiences? Specifically, we ask whether some physical traits are received positively by some audiences but backfire for others. Utilizing research on ideological stereotypes and the determinants of facial preferences, we focus on the relationship between the facial dominance of the source and the ideology of the receiver. Across five studies, we demonstrate that a dominant face is a winning face when the audience is conservative but backfires and decreases success when the audience is liberal. On the other hand, a non-dominant face constitutes a winning face among liberal audiences but backfires among conservatives. These effects seemingly stem from deep-seated psychological responses and shape both the election and communication success of real-world politicians. If the faces of politicians do not match the ideology of their constituency, they are more likely to lose in the competition for votes and policy support.
Original languageEnglish
JournalPolitical Communication
Pages (from-to)188-211
Number of pages24
Publication statusPublished - 2016

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