Student Scholar Studies Electability of Attractive Politicians

April 25, 2011

At first glance, American Idol and national politics do not have much in common. When senior Trisha Deehring was looking for a topic for her undergraduate research, however, she noticed the similar successes of good-looking contestants on both the musical and political stages.

Deehring formed the basis of her undergraduate research project, “An Examination of the Effects of the Physical Appearance of Political Candidates on Potential Voters,” while watching the popular singing competition. She had noticed how the more attractive contestants had greater success, sometimes in spite of a lack of talent. At the same time, she was becoming interested in politics and noticed a fascination in the media with the way political figures looked, dressed and presented themselves. She wondered if political candidates faced the same type of scrutiny from voters.

To study her hypothesis, Deehring developed a survey for Bradley students to rank four pairs of images of male political candidates in categories such as attractiveness, trustworthiness and intelligence, and then select which image from each pair the students would vote for. She found that the students almost always voted for the more attractive candidate, and she presented her findings at the recent Student Scholarship Expo.

Deehring conducted her research as part of her Mildred Arnold Scholarship. Every year, one incoming freshman is chosen as a Mildred Arnold Scholar, receiving a financial award and conducting an undergraduate research project with a faculty mentor. Deehring’s mentor is Dr. Chang-Ok Choi.

Dr. Choi expressed her pride in Deehring and all of her department’s undergraduate researchers, and both she and Deehring described the kinship that develops between student researchers and faculty.

“They really feel a sense of accomplishment and growth,” said Dr. Choi. “Once they finish their projects, they are my colleagues.”

“One of the things I love about working on this research project is how much time I've gotten to spend with the faculty and the opportunity to develop meaningful relationships with them,” said Deehring. “I know that at any given time, all of them would be more than willing to help me out with whatever I need.”

Although she finished her project and will graduate in May, Deehring still plans further research on her topic.

“Dr. Choi and I do have plans to develop my study further and eventually have it published in a research journal,” Deehring said.