Campaign Photos

In his article for the NYT, Leonard Mlodinow examines how a candidate’s appearance affects their perceived level of competence as well as their vote share in experimental as well as observational studies. It turns out looking competent is a complicated thing. The features mentioned as relevant for the evaluation of “able” looking women includes having “eyes with more curvature on the top than the bottom; hair that is short and parted on the side or combed back; a hairline that comes to a slight widow’s peak; a broad or round face; and a smile.” While the article did not include similar parameters for men running for office, I’m fairly sure they exist.


Now, I’m sure everyone has seen this picture at some point during the campaign. For one thing, it was plastered all over campus leading up to the presidential debates. But try to look at this image through the lens of Mlodinow’s summary of how a candidate might influence voter perception of competence. While I’m not sure how these pictures were chosen for the matchup, clear campaign messages can be derived from them. For one, it seems Clinton’s campaign got the memo (or maybe they wrote the book on female competence?). For another, the candidates’ demeanor, even in this still image, seems to align with their respective approaches to campaigning. Is it just me, or is Trump looking far more aggressive than Clinton? Of course, it is entirely possible that I am projecting the knowledge I have of how the campaign unfolded unto two simple headshots.


4 thoughts on “Campaign Photos”

  1. Personally, I do not know if I would use the term ‘aggressive’ for this particular picture of Trump, but I also would not consider it an inaccurate description because we know that he ran an aggressive campaign. Clinton looks somewhat complacent in her photo however, but it is actually hard to pin an adjective to either without using the knowledge of the outcome, as you stated. Referencing the article, I did not realize that the details of achieving visual competence were so complex. This was a very interesting read.


  2. This blog post reminds me of a few articles that we read in the wake of the presidential election last week. I feel as though having Clinton smile and Trump almost grimace plays into the idea that “masculine dominance… is quite literally on the ballot” (Dittmar). Showing Clinton as appearing to be almost soft, compared to Trump, might lead one to perceive that she is not capable of being president (Dittmar).


    1. Right, it’s a catch 22 for Clinton though, look too ‘tough’ and she’s considered cold and calculating, look too nice, and she’s not tough enough for the job.


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