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Political Affiliation Can Be Differentiated By Appearance 262

Posted by samzenpus
from the if-it-looks-like-a-liberal-and-quacks-like-a-liberal dept.
quaith writes "It's not the way they dress, but the appearance of their face. A study published in PLoS One by Nicholas O. Rule and Nalini Ambady of Tufts University used closely cropped greyscale photos of people's faces, standardized for size. Undergrads were asked to categorize each person as either a Democrat or Republican. In the first study, students were able to differentiate Republican from Democrat senate candidates. In the second, students were able to differentiate the political affiliation of other college students. Accuracy in both studies was about 60% — not perfect, but way better than chance."

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Political Affiliation Can Be Differentiated By Appearance

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  • by Hatta (162192)

    This should be easy enough. Hipsters are liberal, hicks are conservative. Pretty easy to identify them from facial hair amongst other cues.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 27, 2010 @02:18PM (#30920494)

      There are two things Liberals hate!!!!!
      1) Red-necks, and
      2) Stereotyping

    • This should be easy enough. Hipsters are liberal, hicks are conservative. Pretty easy to identify them from facial hair amongst other cues.

      There are strange boundary cases however. Like when someone becomes so hipster they're hicks [latfh.com] [Warning, NSFW] like in the Jan 21st picture on that blog. And, like the theoretical Higgs Boson, if one traverses the hick spectrum far enough right they will eventually stumble upon some sort of strange class of so-Broke-Back-Mountain-it's-hipster ... while I don't have any pictures for you the Hipsters/Hicks Research Community That Takes Money from Parents Who Are Worried about Their Youths is all abuzz with th

    • by elrous0 (869638) *
      And also, the guy who's actually drinking a beer during the photo shoot--probably a hick.
    • Re:Obvious (Score:4, Interesting)

      by AB3A (192265) on Wednesday January 27, 2010 @02:38PM (#30920942) Homepage Journal

      The old saw: "If you're not a liberal when you're young, you have no heart; if you're not a conservative when you're older, you have no brain." (Variants have been attributed to Winston Churchill, though there is no indication that he ever said this)

      Age may not be such a bad indicator after all.

      • Re:Obvious (Score:5, Insightful)

        by AuMatar (183847) on Wednesday January 27, 2010 @02:44PM (#30921050)

        Please note that Churchill was English. Liberal and conservative are totally different over there. Liberal means anti-government intervention, conservative means the opposite. For example Margaret Thatcher called Ronald Reagan "the greatest liberal of our time". So yeah, that makes sense- if you're naive you think that markets and good faith will make everything work out ok. When you get older and wise enough to know better, you want society to step in and fix shit.

        • She must have been either desperate or delusional to describe Ronald "drug warrior" Reagan as "anti-government intervention"...
        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by osu-neko (2604)

          Liberal and conservative are totally different over there. Liberal means anti-government intervention, conservative means the opposite.

          This more or less tracks with America. Democrats want to tax me more, Republicans want to take control of my body and tell me who I can and can't marry. I support Democrats because I oppose intrusive government.

          • by TapeCutter (624760) * on Wednesday January 27, 2010 @06:52PM (#30926680) Journal
            There's two types of conservative, fiscal and social. Fiscal conservatives want to control the budget through less spending or more tax. Social conservatives want to control your body and bedroom.

            Fiscal liberals say things like "deficits don't matter" (Rummy), social liberals say things like "I have a dream".

            Out of the possible combinations my personal preference is fiscally conservative and socially liberal. Yeah, that usually means more taxes but nobody ever claimed civilization was cheap.
      • And if you're a Green who realizes that political power oscillating back and forth between the conservatives and the liberals is a control system with feedback seeking balanced policy over time, then what can we make of you?

        • "What can we make of you?"

          Soylent green- GREEN!

          The environmentally friendly Soylent green.

          Try some today.

        • And if you're a Green who realizes that political power oscillating back and forth between the conservatives and the liberals is a control system with feedback seeking balanced policy over time, then what can we make of you?

          Clueless if not extremely interested in Preference Voting systems?

      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        So if you want to stay young, stay liberal? Works for me.
    • by Toonol (1057698)
      I wouldn't be surprised if you could reach a 60% correlation between AGE and party affiliation; and I'm sure you can between GENDER and affiliation. Was the study normalized for those sorts of obvious flags?
  • by eldavojohn (898314) * <eldavojohn&gmail,com> on Wednesday January 27, 2010 @02:08PM (#30920312) Journal

    Factor 1 (46% of variance explained) consisted of high loadings on likeability (.94) and trustworthiness (.97) and low loadings on dominance (.11) and facial maturity (.14). Factor 2 (42% of variance explained) consisted of high loadings on dominance (.92) and facial maturity

    My grandmother used to tell me something along the lines of what is often misattributed to Churchill [wikiquote.org]:

    If you're not a liberal when you're 25, you have no heart. If you're not a conservative by the time you're 35, you have no brain.

    And I would also like to point out for the college students that society (especially high school) often pigeonholes people and defines who they are on how they look. The individual sometimes has no choice and sometimes just accepts it and goes with it in order to belong. If you look older when you're young and people might instinctively treat you like a cold Republican. Always looked young and innocent? Then a warm Democrat.

    Would be an explanation that agrees with the correlation the research drew to define the deviation from random guessing but nothing conclusive.

    • by SQLGuru (980662)

      I'm a registered Independant you insensitive clod (well, I was when I was in a state that required you to claim a group to vote in primaries). I don't pick a candidate based on part affiliation.

    • by hey! (33014) on Wednesday January 27, 2010 @02:27PM (#30920692) Homepage Journal

      The Churchill quote only demonstrates how clever rhetoric does not an argument make.

      I am often amazed at how powerful a beautiful but specious assertion can be. Sometimes it is a compelling analogy that has no actual bearing on the topic at hand. Other times (as in this Churchill case) it is a clever dichotomy that begs the question. This particular quote is a wonderful example of begging the question. It is no more possible to support conservatism with it than it is possible to literally pull yourself up by your bootstraps.

      That was an analogy, wasn't it? I hope you didn't find it too beguiling.

    • by fahrbot-bot (874524) on Wednesday January 27, 2010 @02:37PM (#30920918)

      If you're not a liberal when you're 25, you have no heart. If you're not a conservative by the time you're 35, you have no brain.

      Oh the sweet irony of that quote with the current popularity of Fox "News" :-)

      • Especially since, as has already been pointed out, the quote comes from England where "Liberal" and "Conservative" mean the opposite parties than they do in the US.

    • by AP31R0N (723649)

      There's also the neurological differences between left and right leaning people. If your neurology might lead one toward one direction it might be that trait also carried some... *gasp* physiognomic traits.

      Might be neat to do this experiment again by having all the people in the pics clean shaven, wearing a plain white T, and having a neutral facial expression.

      Then run it again with the people smiling. Would a smiling face skew the results?

    • If you're not a liberal when you're 25, you have no heart. If you're not a conservative by the time you're 35, you have no brain.

      Give me a real conservative to vote for, someone who stays out of both my pocket book and my bedroom, someone who restores free markets, someone who slashes corporate subsidies, and someone who restores the principle of personal responsibility in areas such as drugs and medical care and I will vote for him.

      Sadly, the closest to a conservative in US politics are Democrats; while fa

  • by tjstork (137384) <todd.bandrowsky@nosPAm.gmail.com> on Wednesday January 27, 2010 @02:10PM (#30920352) Homepage Journal

    What a dumb study. Of course you can pick a party affiliation by appearance. First off, if you always say a black guy is a Democrat, you'd be right 90% of the time, based on voting records. That would give you 60% overall correct, even if everything else was 50,50, assuming a sample set that roughly mirrors the population.

    • by DragonWriter (970822) on Wednesday January 27, 2010 @02:20PM (#30920556)

      What a dumb study. Of course you can pick a party affiliation by appearance. First off, if you always say a black guy is a Democrat, you'd be right 90% of the time, based on voting records. That would give you 60% overall correct, even if everything else was 50,50, assuming a sample set that roughly mirrors the population.

      Of course, if you RTFA, the photos of other students were all Caucasian.
      So if you always said a "black guy" was a Democrat, it wouldn't have any effect on the results at all.

      • by bsDaemon (87307)
        WASPs == Republican, Irish, Southern and Eastern European == Democrat. I think that gives at least a 60% chance of success.
        • by pydev (1683904)

          WASP is "white Anglo-Saxon protestant". Southern and Eastern European is definitely not WASP, since they are usually neither Anglo-Saxon nor protestant.

          And where are Republicans supposed to come from if not WASP, Irish, Southern Europe, Eastern Europe, or black? Is the Republican party only made up of Indians, Native Americans, Chinese, and Japanese? Or what?

          • by bsDaemon (87307)
            I should have separated by semi colon maybe. I'm alleging WASPs to make up Republican ranks (and Scotch-Irish also). Then you're normal Irish, Italians, Poles, etc, plus like 90% of your "minority" types, less the Cubans, usually go in your "Democrat" slot.
          • by gobbo (567674)

            WASP is "white Anglo-Saxon protestant".

            Oh! I always thought that WASP was defined as "someone who gets out of the shower to pee."

    • by phantomfive (622387) on Wednesday January 27, 2010 @02:45PM (#30921080) Journal
      You didn't read the study. If you did, you would have seen that they actually tried to figure out what people were using to differentiate.

      Apparently it's this: people with more powerful looking faces are more likely to be Republican (and are more likely to be chosen as Republican, regardless of their true affiliation), and people with warmer more friendly faces are picked to be Democratic

      You should read the paper. They actually linked to the full study this time, so it's a worthy read; if you've never actually read a scientific study before, you'll realize how different real science is compared to how the press is when it reports on science.
  • by Shakrai (717556) on Wednesday January 27, 2010 @02:10PM (#30920356) Journal

    When I work the polls each year I try to pass the time by guessing the party affiliations of my voters.

    "Hmm, large SUV and business suit. Republican."
    "Large breasted college age chick. Democrat."
    "Subaru Outback and peacenik bumper stickers. Green Party."
    "Pick-up truck and AR-15. Libertarian."

    It's amazing how bored you get working a 15 hour day when you only get 40 voters.... ;)

    • by 0racle (667029) on Wednesday January 27, 2010 @02:21PM (#30920580)
      "Large breasted college age chick. Democrat."

      Political affiliation is totally what I'd be thinking about here too.

    • by hey! (33014) on Wednesday January 27, 2010 @02:42PM (#30920996) Homepage Journal

      But don't join the Democratic party thinking you're going to score. Those Dem babes only date Republican jerks.

      It's a Democrat thing, and if you aren't in the party you wouldn't understand. We just can't resist a guy who will cynically screw with us then break our hearts.

      • by sorak (246725) on Wednesday January 27, 2010 @05:50PM (#30925458)

        But don't join the Democratic party thinking you're going to score. Those Dem babes only date Republican jerks.

        It's a Democrat thing, and if you aren't in the party you wouldn't understand. We just can't resist a guy who will cynically screw with us then break our hearts.

        Yeah...That's the sad thing about being a white liberal man. You're only attractive to other white liberal men.

    • When I think of the libertarians, one of two images usually come to mind:

      1. An overweight wife-swapping gun nut with lots of unkept facial hair chomping on a large turkey leg (and getting large pieces of meat stuck in the beard/mustache). In other words, someone who sort of resembles ESR.

      2. A rail thin wife-swapping gun nut who's shaved off all his body hair except what's on his head and who gets all his nutrients from a liquid diet that's supposed to make him live 140 years. In other words, picture someone

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by toadlife (301863)

        3) A young college student who's never worked a day in his/her life and whose tuition is being paid for by Mom and Dad.

    • We used to do that when we were election judges. It was a great time. See, my mom was the precinct leader for the Republicans, and I was the precinct leader for the Democrats, and we were 2/3 of the total election judges, so we'd sit there and make (very quiet) bets as people walked in. A little tricky insofar as our precinct was about 40% Republican, 40% unaffiliated, and 20% Democratic, so we had an awfully poor record for correctly guessing Democrats (except for the ones we knew.) We very rarely had
    • When I work the polls each year I try to pass the time by guessing the party affiliations of my voters.

      "Large breasted college age chick. Democrat."

      It's amazing how bored you get working a 15 hour day when you only get 40 voters.... ;)

      That's because nobody's ever heard of a nice piece of elephant.

    • by sorak (246725) on Wednesday January 27, 2010 @05:48PM (#30925414)

      "Large breasted college age chick. Democrat."

      So small breasted college aged chicks are republicans? That explains why they're so angry...

  • by jgtg32a (1173373) on Wednesday January 27, 2010 @02:11PM (#30920380)

    Lets play a game someone's driving a clunker and they have 80 bumper stickers on it, which way to they lean?

    • depends on the bumper stickers.
      • by jgtg32a (1173373)

        I said 80 bumper stickers though, 2-3 bumper stickers it does matter what they say, but past that it doesn't matter; of all the years I've been driving there was one exception and actually I saw it last week.

    • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Wednesday January 27, 2010 @02:43PM (#30921036) Journal
      Usually easy to tell the in the field; but actually pretty hard from just your description.

      There is the hippy version, which will be some sort of beat-up Volkswagen loaded with "Coexist" stickers and vegan knicknacks and faded campaign paraphernalia either for a local green party candidate or for Nader; back when he was cool. Also likely is the presence of an "evolve" fish, a sticker supporting some candidate for local school board, and the phrase "my karma ran over your dogma".

      Then there is the crazy jesus freak version, which will be some sort of beat-up American car plastered with "choose life" and "abortion stops a beating heart" stickers, along with at least one jesus fish(just a basic outline, or an outline with a cross inside if it is a moderate crazy jesus freak, a jesus fish with "truth" inside devouring a legged darwin fish if it is a militant crazy jesus freak). If the driver is male, there will probably be a "Gun control means 3 rounds to center mass" or similar sticker along with proclamations of loyalty to Limbaugh and at least one republican candidate(or a Constitution Party candidate, if the car belongs to a truly 100% USDA Prime wacko). If female, the stickers are more likely emphasize maudlin expressions of hyperemotional christian piety rather than politics.

      In rare cases, you may encounter the Heavy Metal clunker, whose political leanings can be quite hard to discern. A rusting, but resplendently airbrushed, van adorned with stickers from bands that take skulls, spikes, umlauts, and succubus bikini chicks with battleaxes extremely seriously. You'll need a pretty solid knowledge of Metal to figure out the politics of the driver. Depending on the bands listed, you could be looking at a more or less apathetic individual who just likes that sort of music, or anything from an anarchist to a white power fascist. A clunker with 80 bumper stickers is a very good indicator that the driver leans hard; but you actually need to read one or two to see which way.
      • by jgtg32a (1173373)

        I was thinking the left leaning on my description, main indication being more than 3 bumper stickers.

        I've never seen a Jesus freak w/ more than 3 bumper stickers, I've live in a couple of different area's in Jesus land.

        • The occur with low frequency; but I've seen a few instances with several dozen, to the point where available space was becoming a serious constraint.

          I suppose it is possible, though I don't have nearly the dataset I would need to confirm this rigorously, that such over the top displays are actually somewhat more common in areas where the driver perceives themselves to be surrounded by apathy or opposition rather than agreement. There isn't much point in wearing your views, whatever they are, on your slee
        • by nelsonal (549144)
          I've seen a few around DC. None top a wagon that only had small slits of paint showing between all the bumper stickers that covered every painted surface of the car. I was surprised that they would devalue their car so much for a president who would be out within the year (I saw the car in late 2008 and it was pretty new).
  • by Amorymeltzer (1213818) on Wednesday January 27, 2010 @02:14PM (#30920416)

    60% versus 50%? How is that WAY better?

    • by radtea (464814) on Wednesday January 27, 2010 @03:22PM (#30922142)

      60% versus 50%? How is that WAY better?

      With a large enough sample size a result like this can be highly statistically significant, but still useless as a predictor.

      For example, if I have 2000 marbles, half white and half black, and pull them out randomly and ask you to predict what colour each one is, if you guessed correctly 60% of the time (you got 600 white marbles correct and 600 black marbles correct) you'd be bumping up against three sigma (over 99%) odds of your results NOT being due to chance, but some incredible marble-colour-guessing gene that evolution or possibly archeobacteria had slipped you. Up the number to 20,000 marbles with 60% accuracy and you'd be a proven phenomenon, even though you utility as a marble-colour picker would be pretty much useless unless it also happened to work on a roulette wheel.

      This is something that it can be hard for people outside the machine learning community to understand: an enormously significant result, statistically, can still make for a practically useless classifier.

  • Politicians are all the same, regardless of their affiliated party.
    • by ornil (33732)

      You have to be careful about generalizations. They may all be amoral (or not, I don't especially care), but they happen to vote in certain predictable ways, different for each one, so by supporting a certain politician over another, you can in fact get different results. Just don't fall in love with them.

    • by mooingyak (720677)

      So Mr. Geisel was hiding social commentary in even the non-obvious spots. Neat.

    • Your kidding of course. Well on one level you may be right, like evolution, the principal works on everything, but the strange bedfellows might be a squirel and a squid. So the process of politics, (making comprimises to come to a concensus to get things done is the same, a messy business for sure) but what is being legistlated is very different. You would not see the Republican party trying to enact a program that would keep people from loosing their houses to businesses, or from starving or freezing to de

  • Hey wait (Score:4, Funny)

    by Dunbal (464142) on Wednesday January 27, 2010 @02:32PM (#30920790)

    And I have invented a method for telling if someone is a criminal by taking various measurements of their head! I think I will call this "phrenology".

  • You can get much better than 60% simply by differentiating male and female faces, and improve that more by distinguishing age.
  • by Bob-taro (996889) on Wednesday January 27, 2010 @03:02PM (#30921554)

    I'm not going to state my party affiliation. I'll just say that when I saw that this pointless study was funded by OUR TAX DOLLARS via an NSF grant, I thought, "God help us!"

  • RTFA (Score:3, Informative)

    by martin-boundary (547041) on Wednesday January 27, 2010 @06:04PM (#30925760)
    A single "accuracy" number is useless. Always report for TWO misclassification rates [wikipedia.org]: the rate of False Positives (=incorrectly identified as 1st class) and the rate of False Negatives (=incorrectly identified as 2nd class).

    A cursory look at TFA indicates that both types of misclassification rates in this study are found to be in the range 40%-50% (approximately in each study). That is piss-poor. For comparison, a typical Bayesian spam filter has both misclassification rates in the 1% range, and people still complain about that.

    The correct conclusion should really be that looking only at peoples' faces is a really bad way to gauge political affiliation. Slow news day, eh?

  • Interesting... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by jemenake (595948) on Wednesday January 27, 2010 @06:55PM (#30926752)
    I suspected this kind of thing when I started noticing those election-day photos of the rally headquarters for the various candidates. "All of the chicks in the Republican audience are always smokin' hot babes", I'd think to myself.

    And then it dawned on me. If there is a correlation between appearance and political leanings, how would any causal relationship work? I think the causation of politics determining appearance is the easier one to spot. Most conservatives I know seem to place more of an emphasis on appearance, while the liberals I know place more of an emphasis on ideas; feeling that ideas will stand or fall on their own merit, regardless of the appearance of the messenger. So, liberals don't see as much need for dressing up before trying to pitch their ideas.

    Now, the causation from appearance to politics is a little more subtle. My suspicion is that the people who are "less beautiful" are the ones who spend more of their time on the outside of popularity. They're they people who never made the ballot for prom queen, didn't get asked to the school dance, didn't have as many romantic opportunities. They got more of a taste of what it's like to be a "have not" or to be outside of the majority. This experience, I believe, can cause them to have the increased empathy and tendency to "look out for others" that seems to characterize liberal thought.

    On the other hand, the people are very attractive or physically gifted had an easier time of things. Athletic success came easier to the "natural born athletes", and the pretty or charismatic people had an easier time getting others to back their ideas or plans. Things just went a little easier for them. Because we can only experience the world through our own eyes, I can see how the "beautiful people" could believe that (as it was for them) one only needs to apply themselves to a goal and it'll work out. This could give rise to the "anybody willing to work hard will find success" mindset that we tend to see in conservatives.

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