Are you more likely to vote for a politician who is confident, well spoken, and physically attractive? Believe it or not, the answer is yes. In fact, a large percentage of people will consider this candidate to also be kind, honest, and educated because of the way he/she looks and sounds.
This is known as the halo effect: the tendency to assume goodness in a person after noticing one or more positive traits or to assume badness in a person after perceiving one or more negative traits. When politicians are charming and friendly, these characteristics usually sway the voter to their side of the playing field. The halo effect is definitely an interesting theory in social psychology, which was first given its name by Edward Thorndike who used it in a study published in 1920 called “The Constant Error in Psychological Ratings”.
The existence of the halo effect has been acknowledged for some time, and is an everyday bias that plays a large part in shaping our view of people and circumstances in the office, classroom, courtroom, and of course in politics. In their efforts to get elected or re-elected, politicians rely heavily on the halo effect to earn your vote.
Take, for example, the upcoming U.S. presidential election next month. Guaranteed there will be a heavy share of votes cast for each candidate that will undoubtedly be influenced by the halo effect versus votes cast based on actual talent and ability. It’s very common that during election times the public will readily vote for the political candidate who is the most attractive and confident. Because of the halo effect, these candidates have a spellbinding effect that make people believe that they are intelligent, trustworthy, and will be great leaders.
Ever notice that politicians use many strategies to show us how likeable and highly qualified they are? They strive to develop a favorable image all done in the hopes that it will highlight their best attributes, downplay their lack of qualifications, and also influence voters to assume that they are good at governing. … “Vote for me because I went to an Ivy League school. Vote for me because I support our troops. Vote for me because I’m tall, dark, and handsome. Vote for me because I have children just like you. Vote for me because I believe in God.”
A frustrating aspect to all of this is that a lot of the time politicians aren’t showing us that they are truly knowledgeable individuals who understand how to lead a country. Instead, their campaign turns into a personality contest or a beauty pageant, using their attractive features and promises to impress us. Voting for the wrong person and rejecting someone that would be of more value could be a tragic decision; the best choice overlooked or ignored for simply being physically unappealing or not as well spoken.
What is interesting to note is that most people are able to understand the halo effect rationally, but often have no clue when it is actually taking place. And then, even when it’s pointed out to them, they still may actually deny it.
So the next time you consider voting for a particular candidate running for office, take a moment and ask yourself: “Am I honestly weighing the pros and cons of the candidates? Or am I letting pleasing characteristics in one or the other cloud my judgment?” Beware The Halo Effect!