The Beauty in Politics

In the Economist:

NAMED last week as his party’s candidate for the French presidential election, Nicolas Sarkozy faces an opponent, Ségolène Royal, who has the press drooling. “Dazzling” and “radiant”, she has been likened to a work of art (“Mona Lisa”) and a mythological figure (a “siren”).

Perhaps Mr Sarkozy should pay a visit to Chattanooga, Tennessee. The city’s former mayor, Bob Corker, faced a similar problem in his Senate race last November. He prevailed against a congressman, Harold Ford junior, who was once counted among the 50 “most beautiful” people on Washington’s Capitol Hill. In response, Mr Corker hurled one of the strangest insults in campaign history. He accused Mr Ford of being “an attractive young man”.

“This is not a beauty pageant,” Ms Royal’s detractors are fond of saying. But what makes them so sure? The days are gone when a person would “vote for a pig if his party put one up,” as one British voter put it in the 1950s. Today, politicians must be well-groomed animals, selling their personalities not their parties. Looks can have an especially powerful influence on the minority of floating voters who determine election results, says Linda Bilmes, a professor of government at America’s Harvard University.