They’re calling it the Michele Bachmann effect. And no, it’s not the Minnesota congresswoman’s crusade to ban falafel from public schools. It refers to the relationship between a woman’s politics and her face.
Women politicians with “stereotypical feminine facial features” are more often Republicans, found researchers at UCLA]. And the more feminine their features, the more conservative their voting records. They also found the reverse—that women with more masculine facial features tended to be Democrats. Less gender-typical visages tracked with more liberal voting records. The correlation between face and party ideology was stronger for Republican women politicians than Democrats.
Psychology Professor Kerri Johnson and graduate student Colleen Carpinella applied computer modeling to pictures of the entire 111th U.S. Congress to determine which facial features and the spacing between them connote a more masculine or more feminine face. They then asked college students to look at the 434 portraits and guess which women belonged to each party—and they pegged Republican women correctly 98 percent of the time. Johnson and Carpinella posit that the reason for these facial correlations in women politicians stem from perceived gender roles entrenched in each party’s DNA.
"The Democratic Party is associated with social liberal policies that aim to diminish gender disparities, whereas the Republican Party is associated with socially conservative policy issues that tend to bolster traditional sex roles," Johnson said in a UCLA release.
The trend did not apply to male politicians in the same way. Male Republican faces “scored less masculine” than Democrats, but the researchers found this less interesting than the data about women because they said male politicians are less likely to “exhibit masculinity through their appearance” than through their actions.
This experiment was just too tempting not to try, even if on a smaller, less scientific scale. So The Daily Beast took to the New York City Highline, armed with photos of six women politicians to introduce to passersby. We asked New Yorkers, Midwesterners, Brits and Canadians which party each lady pol was from. We chose three Democrats and three Republicans pursuing or holding office.
On the red team: Tea Party sweetheart and Utah congressional hopeful Mia Love, Missouri senate candidate Sarah Steelman and Representative Bachmann herself. Blue team: Arizona congressional candidate Kyrsten Sinema and Senate candidates Tammy Baldwin and Elizabeth Warren of Wisconsin and Massachusetts respectively.
Participants said “piercing eyes,” blonde hair and perceived plastic surgery seemed more Republican, while dowdy suits, a serious gaze and close-cropped bobs read Democrat. Democrats interviewed said politicians who looked trustworthy or professional were Democrats, like themselves. Interviewees did not come close to the undergraduates’ 98% accuracy rate choosing Republicans, but almost everyone guessed the party of Sarah Steelman, among the most feminine-featured of the bunch, correctly.