When a politician tells us that he'll stick to his beliefs when in office, we usually murmur something about corporate interests and "the fat cats in City Hall." Well, it turns out that politicians are the ones who should be cynical about us. Science is finding that some pretty weird stuff can make us forget what we stand for on Election Day. At least the politicians are being swayed by briefcases full of cash. With us, it can be things as simple as ...
#6. Who Weighs More
Ever since JFK out-sexied Nixon during the first-ever televised presidential debates, looks have mattered in politics. Studies have shown that more attractive politicians get greater press coverage and more air time and of course, the best thing you can do if you are a lady politician is hit the gym. But looks also matter in ways you might not expect when it comes to which politicians people vote for, and being the most attractive isn't always the most important thing.
Unless you're a woman. We really can't emphasis that enough.
When it comes to men, being fit and attractive is helpful but nothing compared with being overweight. Apparently, voters see more rotund male candidates as more trustworthy and even more inspiring than their thinner competition. Other very detailed studies have shown that we tend to favor men with specific facial characteristics, which basically boils down to voting for more distinguished-looking gentlemen as opposed to "baby-faced" candidates.
With the obvious exception of Senator Giggles here.
It doesn't even matter what the candidates' policies are. Studies show that when people are presented with pictures of politicians for even a second and know absolutely nothing about the politicians' beliefs or what party they are in, certain candidates will always come out on top. And since that's the first thing you find out about a candidate, some guys are coming from behind to begin with.
According to a study at MIT this phenomenon isn't limited by where you vote. People in different countries continually find certain candidates more trustworthy and electable based on their looks, no matter how different their cultures. And as long as those politicians are guys, it is the chubby yet distinguished-looking ones every time.
Taft couldn't lose.
#5. Where You Vote
Anyone who has voted knows that the government isn't picky about what constitutes a "public polling place." The motto seems to be: If it would be considered slightly below average for a weekly bingo game, it's good enough for the linchpin of democracy. On Election Day, you might find yourself voting anywhere from a supermarket parking lot to some dude's garage -- as long as it can fit some curtained cubicles and a couple of old ladies making sure you don't cheat off your neighbor.
In addition to making you feel worse about America, the location where you cast your ballot might actually be brainwashing you with subtle environmental factors you don't even notice. For instance, studies have shown that if your local polling place is a school, you will vote yes for more school initiatives on the ballot, especially if there are teachers or students nearby. Using exit polling data, the studies found that this was the case even if the measures were not something the voters would typically support.
If they allowed crowded airplanes to act as polling places, everyone would be pro-choice.
It's difficult to get too outraged at those fat cat public school students who tricked you into paying for new text books. But a more recent study found that churches -- which are the most common polling locations in America -- can make you turn in a ballot that is more conservative than your actual beliefs. The study found that people casting their ballots in churches were more likely to vote against propositions supporting gay marriage and abortion rights, even if those votes conflicted with their beliefs.
Note to marijuana enthusiasts: As much as the voters enjoy your Peter Tosh cover band's "Legalize It" charity concert and space-cookie bake sale, if you really want to make a difference, you should lobby to move the voting booths out back behind the school and church dumpster. That should jog a few memories in the right direction.
School and church dumpsters: Covering up the smell since 1963.
#4. Sports Results
Not only do Americans pay more attention to BCS polls than the ones pertaining to the electoral process, the outcome of college football games can determine how we vote in the elections that actually matter. Even if you're not that into football, if you live in a town that identifies itself with a particular team, scientists say that whether that team wins or loses can swing the vote by up to 5 percent. According to one study, this phenomenon significantly improved President Obama's approval rating during the 2009 NCAA Basketball Tournament.
On the other hand, the fact that he thinks football is played like a trumpet doesn't help.
To get an idea of how this works, let's look at the state of Nebraska. On Saturday, Oct. 30, three days before the 2010 elections, 81,067 Nebraskans traveled to Lincoln to watch their team take on sixth ranked Missouri. To put that in perspective, if the Cornhuskers' Memorial Stadium was a city, for a few hours on game day it would be the third-largest in the entire state.
Pictured: Basically everyone in Nebraska.
When the guys in red pulled off an upset, a healthy dose of dopamine started rocketing around the brains of a sizable portion of the state's population. Scientists have found that the dopamine delivered by a win can last days, and it's not difficult to imagine how it can be contagious. The boss might be the only person in the office who's into football, but his good mood on Monday puts everyone else in a good mood. The entire office goes home and puts the rest of their families in a good mood. Pretty soon, the entire state of Nebraska is walking into the voting booth with their heads in a giant golden cloud of dopamine.
So this is fine, but secretly dosing voters with MDMA is somehow "wrong"?
And this is where one guy gets to surf into office on the back of a bunch of athletes he's never met. While a statewide high doesn't favor Democrats or Republicans, it does make the people of that state less likely to fire someone, or in electoral politics, to vote against an incumbent running for re-election. Dopamine also makes us more likely to feel good about the state of the world. In a variety of studies, scientists found in such situations people were up to 5 percent more likely to vote for incumbent candidates, with the variation depending not on how good a job the incumbent did, but on how big an upset the game was.