POST 50
03/08/2016 11:51 am ET

Here's How Looks Could Affect The 2016 Elections

What America's largest voting block values in a candidate's appearance.
A recent survey found that older people were drawn to mature-looking political candidates, most likely attributing value
GEOFF ROBINS via Getty Images
A recent survey found that older people were drawn to mature-looking political candidates, most likely attributing values like wisdom and experience to older appearances.

Attention to candidates appearances has factored into this election cycle to an excessive degree -- but its impact goes beyond personal and political insult. 

A new study says that appearance could even be affecting voters perceptions of candidates as they hit the polls. 

Researchers from Anderson University in South Carolina and Brandeis University recently conducted a small survey of voters to see how age and appearance shapes voters' opinions. 

Both younger men and women (ages 18-24), and older men and women (ages 68-90), were included in the study, which was carried out in 2014 and 2015. Participants were shown portraits of senatorial candidates, the majority of which were male, from 54 races during the 2010 and 2012 elections, two at a time. They were asked to rate each candidate on a seven-point scale for four categories, based only on their appearance: competence, trustworthiness, attractiveness, and "babyfaceness," defined as having larger eyes and a rounder face. They were also asked which candidate they would hypothetically vote for. 

The findings, published in the journal Cogent Psychology, suggest that older and younger voters gravitate towards different attributes where appearance is concerned. 

"We found older adults preferred different facial characteristics, most notably preferring more mature-looking individuals. This is likely because older adults place a higher value in the wisdom that comes from age and maturity," Robert Franklin of Anderson University, who co-authored the study, told The Huffington Post. "However, older adults valued facial competence less than younger adults."

When it came to choosing a candidate, the two groups were divided. The younger adults chose candidates that scored high for looking "competent." The older adults, while valuing competence, were more likely to select the older-looking candidates. In both younger and older participants, attractiveness was positively related to ratings of competence and trustworthiness. 

As the researchers point out, older voters have the highest rates of voter turnout, compared with their younger counterparts, meaning their votes are critical to the outcome of an election. "Understanding the unique characteristics that affect older adult voting behavior is essential in understanding political psychology," Franklin said.

"Facial competence is strongly associated with characteristics such as perceived intelligence and social competence, which are more innate characteristics and less affected by experience. Whereas younger adults may seek innate intelligence, older adults value the wisdom that comes from experience, likely because they can see the value of that wisdom in their own lives," Franklin said. 

A number have studies have been conducted on the importance of appearance in politics. One study found that female candidates with more "feminine" features may fare better than those who looks more masculine.  Other studies have shown that attractive candidates tend to succeed because of evolutionary preferences. 

Also on HuffPost:

PHOTO GALLERY
Winning Election Posters
CONVERSATIONS