Is Voting Skin-Deep? Estimating the Effect of Candidate Ballot Photographs on Election Outcomes
In the Northern Territory, Australia, ballot papers for territory elections depict candidates’ photographs. We exploit this unusual electoral feature by looking at the effect that candidates’ beauty and skin color has on voting patterns. Our results for beauty are mixed, but we find strong evidence that skin color matters. In electorates with a small Indigenous population, lighter-skinned candidates receive more votes, while in electorates with a high number of Indigenous people, darker-skinned candidates are rewarded at the ballot box. The relationship between skin color and electoral performance is stronger for challengers than incumbents. We explain this with a model in which voters use skin color as a proxy for some underlying characteristic which they value only to the extent that they share the trait.
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