Republican women in Congress are more feminine than their Democrat counterparts, according to a new study.
Two UCLA researchers examined facial features and political positions of women serving in the U.S. House of Representatives.
“Female politicians with stereotypically feminine facial features are more likely to be Republican than Democrat, and the correlation increases the more conservative the lawmaker’s voting record,” said lead author Colleen M. Carpinella, a UCLA graduate student in psychology.
According to a report on the UCLA website, “The researchers also found the opposite to be true: Female politicians with less stereotypically feminine facial features were more likely to be Democrats, and the more liberal their voting record, the greater the distance the politician’s appearance strayed from stereotypical gender norms.”
The study revealed the relationship between a woman’s appearance and her political leanings was so strong that “politically uninformed” undergrads were able to accurately determine a lawmaker’s party based on whether she had a feminine or masculine appearance.
“I suppose we could call it the ‘Michele Bachmann effect,’” said Kerri Johnson, the study’s senior author and an assistant professor of communication studies and psychology at UCLA.
According to the report, the UCLA findings will be published online in the peer-reviewed Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.
Researchers were inspired to study the women’s characteristics by previous research that showed “Americans have a better-than-chance ability” to differentiate between a Democrat and Republican on looks alone.
“At least when it comes to female politicians, assessing how much a face reflects gender norms may be one way of guessing political affiliations,” said Johnson.
According to the report, Carpinella and Johnson chose to focus the study on lawmakers in the House of Representatives because they are greater in number and not as publicly recognizable as senators.
They scanned photographs of 434 male and female members of the 111th House of Representatives into computer that examined 100 subtle dimensions, including jaw shape, eyebrow location, cheek bone placement, eye shape, contour of the forehead, lip fullness and the distance between such features as the bottom of the nose and the top of the lip.
With those dimensions, the researchers were able to score the facial features according to whether they exhibited feminine or masculine characteristics. They used a scale ranging from -40 (highly male-typed) to +40 (highly female-typed).
“We weren’t looking at hairstyle, jewelry or whether a person was wearing make-up or not,” Carpinella said. “We wanted to get an objective measure of how masculine or feminine a face is, based on a scientifically derived average for male or female appearance.”
UCLA noted, “In addition to party affiliation, the researchers took into account each politician’s DW–NOMINATE score, a scale developed by political scientists that uses voting records to determine how conservative or liberal a lawmaker is.”
However, UCLA also added, “In a finding that the researchers do not view as a particularly revealing, the faces of male Republicans, on average, scored as less masculine than the faces of their Democratic counterparts.
Carpinella said, “It may be unnecessary for Republican men to exhibit masculinity through their appearance. Their policy advocacy and leadership roles may already confer these characteristics on them.”
Among female politicians, however, the faces of Republicans rated twice as feminine as those of their Democrat counterparts.
Republican lawmakers whose faces ranked as highly feminine included: Texas Rep. Kay Granger, Washington Rep. Cathy Rodgers and Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann.
Democrat lawmakers whose faces ranked as more masculine included: Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (formerly at-large representative for South Dakota), Connecticut Rep. Rosa DeLauro and California Rep. Anna G. Eshoo.