Smile Power in Politics: What We Can Learn From Candidate Grins

Evaluating political candidates? In addition to reviewing their track record and opinions, take a look at their smiles.

Evaluating political candidates? In addition to reviewing their track record and opinions, take a look at their smiles.

It’s election year! And politicians have been showboating their smiles all across the country. Politicians have power—but what about their pearly whites?

Smiles can influence elections.

In a crowded political field, votes of­ten come down to sub­lim­in­al qual­it­ies. Candidates who smile in campaign photos have improved polling outcomes, compared to those who don’t smile, according to a recent political psychology study. It’s a fine line for tough-as-nails politicians, as smiling is a submissive behavior. In fact, smiling revealed the loser of martial arts matches.

These findings would have voters believe that smiling is an indication that a competitor is outmatched by an opponent. As contentious as politics is, it’s not an MMA fight. So don’t count on Marco Rubio pulling a Ronda Rousey anytime soon.

The science of smiling is subtle in politics.

For voters, a smile is a glimpse in­to a can­did­ate’s per­son­al­ity. A speech is scrip­ted—smiles are not. If a candidate shows a sub­dued smile in the face of crowd cheers, it may in­dic­ate bash­ful­ness. People who smile as their op­pon­ents are at­tacked can sig­nal vin­dict­ive­ness.

It’s not that one smile is bet­ter than an­oth­er, it’s that the smile should be consist­ent with the message. If a can­did­ate is speak­ing about hope for the fu­ture, his or her smile should appear happy, not staged or con­temp­tu­ous.

So, no matter which candidate you vote for in the primary, take a look at his or her smile.

Curious about the smiles of local politicians? Gander at government portraits at the Arizona State Library and Capitol Museum.

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