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 ...
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.
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.
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.
Let's face it, you probably don't know enough about every name on the ballot to make an educated vote. Sure, the position of city comptroller is probably really important, but your favorite news channel didn't tell you how to vote on that one. The logical thing to do would be to simply skip that part of the ballot but of course you won't. You're just going to randomly pick someone. And the chances are that person will be one of the first people listed.
It's OK. We're honestly impressed you made it out of your comfy chair.
The reason comes down to the fact that we as humans just accept what we see or experience first. If you're taste-testing two sodas, you're more likely to think the first one tastes better. And on a ballot, you're more likely to let the guy listed first run the public schools you send your kids to.
Stanford researchers looked at election results over 10 years and found that coming first on the ballot increased a candidate's vote total by an average of 2 percent. And it's not just the unimportant elections. Their research suggested that as many as nine congressional races would have gone the other way if the second-place candidate had been listed above the guy who is currently a member of Congress.
It's such a well known problem that some states randomize the ballot order to counteract this effect. For instance, in the 2000 presidential election, California randomized the order based on district, so everyone in Sacramento might have seen George W. Bush's name last, while everyone in San Francisco might have seen him first. Of course, at the presidential level, that's more than a little insulting. We might vote for Aaron A. Aaronson as the best choice for village idiot, but it's not like it's going to sway who we choose to run the whole freaking country, right?
Actually, Bush got 9 percent more votes in districts where he was listed first than in the assembly districts where he was listed last. In Florida, which determined the election by an incredibly small margin, Bush was listed first every time. If Florida had mixed the districts like California does, it's almost certain that Gore would have won. That's the presidency of the United States determined by the fact that we don't have the patience to read past the first two-syllable name. Regardless of how you feel about how things turned out, you've got to admit that it's pretty ballsy of anyone on this side of the equation to be calling him retarded.
Besides, they almost never let retarded people fly fighter jets.
There's an old saying that Republicans should pray for rain on Election Day. People from low-income areas have to walk or take public transportation to get to the polls. When it rains, a rich guy can just put on his J. Crew rain slicker and galoshes, throw his SUV in four-wheel drive and pay a poor person to hold an umbrella over his head while he waits in line.
A Rich Person, circa any point in history.
A group of political scientists published a paper in which they analyzed election results by district from 1948 on and found that weather played a statistically significant role in election results. How significant? Well, if Nov. 2, 1960, hadn't been an uncommonly clear day across the country, John F. Kennedy might still be alive today.
But bad weather isn't always good news for Republicans. When things go wrong, it's common for people to blame the government for things that even the most jaded libertarian would have to agree probably aren't the government's fault. For decades scientists have been studying the possibility that people blame those in power for natural disasters.
They unveiled their research at the annual, "Just How Stupid Are People, Anyway?" convention in Zurich.
Even though we're pretty sure no government in the world is yet capable of controlling the weather (although they are working on it), it turns out that voters tend to blame the incumbent candidate for any recent earthquakes, floods or hurricanes and are more likely to elect the opponent. It doesn't matter if the candidate does a good job of supplying aid and other support after the hurricane or flood. In our crazy minds, the whole thing is his fault to begin with.
WHY DOES IT RAIN, PRESIDENT HUSSEIN?!
While studies haven't shown this to be as statistically significant as the other items on this list, consider the votes for George W. Bush in Florida in the 2004 election. The state had been hit with four consecutive hurricanes before November, and those areas hit hardest were less likely to vote for his re-election, even if they were staunchly conservative areas that had voted for him four years earlier.
If being in the same room as a Jesus statue is enough to make a liberal person vote like a conservative, you'd think the decision to vote or stay home would be just as haphazard and easy to influence. Maybe there's a politically active girl you're trying to impress. Maybe you happened to catch Air Force One on TNT. There's no one reason any one of us votes, right?
"The bars are closed anyway, might as well go vote."
Actually, the question of why we vote has been the subject of scientific research for years since it basically contradicts everything social scientists have learned about typical human behavior. Think about it. You know how they say the lottery is a tax on people who don't understand math? Well, the same could be said about the process of voting, since it is mathematically impossible for your single, solitary vote to swing the election.
Social scientists have tried to explain people's irrational decision to vote with everything from age to gender to race. None of it made a difference. No matter how many times P. Diddy threatened to kill them, some people just weren't going to the polls, and others seemed, in the words of political scientist Jay Fowler, "programmed to keep voting."
That's when Fowler got the idea to see if these people really were programmed -- if whether or not we vote is in fact hard-coded into our DNA. Various large-scale studies of twins in America and Australia found that identical twins were more likely to share voting behavior than fraternal twins. The correlation was so overwhelming that the researchers concluded that genes are the most important factor in determining whether you vote.
So whether you decide to vote has nothing to do with your feelings on the war your country's involved in, or the time the president killed your father in front of you. A randomly selected group of humanity is programmed to vote, and if you're not one of them, you're going to be lazy and stay home. Although if you're in the lazy part of the population, we guess you shouldn't be too jealous. They're just going to vote for the fat guy anyway.
For more depressing political trends, check out 8 Insane Ways Parents Are Politically Brainwashing Children. Or, learn the tricks The Man doesn't want you to know about in 6 Brainwashing Techniques They're Using On You Right Now.
And stop by Linkstorm to find out where you can purchase a hairy toe online.
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