Dissatisfaction with a subpar field of presidential candidates has turned Republican eyes towards a potential new savior: Chris Christie, the governor of New Jersey. The growing speculation has been accompanied by discussion of Christie’s considerable girth. (Current and former TNR writers are at the forefront of the burgeoning debate: Michael Kinsley threw down the gauntlet but drew a riposte from Jon Chait, while Tim Noah employed the TNR commenting community in an effort to guess Christie’s weight.) Is this all idle speculation among journalists, or does the question have real political impact?
Multiple studies indicate that physical attractiveness has a considerable impact on our judgments of other people—and that effect extends to political judgments as well. A study released this year further cements this finding. By studying 2006 Senate and gubernatorial candidates, two political scientists at MIT determined that “people who are poorly informed about politics but watch a good deal of TV cast their ballots for governor and senator disproportionately on the way candidates look.” The authors found that the effect “holds when controlling for campaign spending, incumbency, candidate experience, electoral competitiveness, and party strength.” And the more television a low-knowledge voter watches, the more powerful the impact of attractiveness. In other words, voters’ superficiality is almost certain to cost Christie votes, should he choose to run. That is, unless Americans start watching much less TV. Who likes his odds?
Update, October 4: This may turn out to be a moot point, since Christie evidently isn't running after all, but John Sides sent along an interesting post highlighting new research that's even closer to the mark. According to a new paper, obesity may actually help male candidates—but not female candidates. The full paper is available here.