Competence ratings in US predict presidential election outcomes in Bulgaria

Abigail B. Sussman, Kristina Petkova, Alexander Todorov

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

51 Scopus citations


Although democracies should ideally elect leaders based on their abilities, voters are often biased by seemingly unrelated factors, such as a candidate's appearance. Prior work examining the relations between election outcomes and appearance has primarily focused on a restricted range of the top candidates, examined in pairwise comparisons. In the present study, we tested whether the predictive ability of ratings based on facial appearance would extend to a wider range of candidates. Specifically, we examined whether individuals in the US could predict outcomes in the 2011 Bulgarian presidential elections by evaluating the facial appearance of 18 candidates. The large number of candidates naturally running for the high level office allowed us to accurately test the strength of the relationship between judgments of facial appearance and election outcomes across a broad range of faces. We found that a strong correlation between ratings of facial competence and election outcomes persisted across the full range of candidates, and that US participants' hypothetical choices paralleled actual Bulgarian election outcomes. We demonstrated that competence ratings were more effective at predicting election outcomes than judgments on a variety of other characteristics deemed important by Bulgarian voters as well as ratings of attractiveness. Furthermore, judgments of competence largely drove the correlation between hypothetical and actual votes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)771-775
Number of pages5
JournalJournal of Experimental Social Psychology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 2013

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science


  • First impression
  • Person perception
  • Political choice
  • Voting


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