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Republican women prettier than Democrats, study finds

Michele Bachmann answers a question during the first New Hampshire Republican presidential debate at St. Anselm College in Manchester, N.H., Monday, June 13, 2011.

Jim Cole/AP

Liberals are from Mars, Conservatives are from Venus. At least, that's what a plethora of studies would have us believe.

Here's a beaut: Conservative politicians are prettier than their Liberal counterparts, according to a new study from the University of California at Los Angeles.

"Female politicians with stereotypically feminine facial features are more likely to be Republican than Democrat," says lead author Colleen Carpinella, a UCLA graduate student in psychology.

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The conclusion is based on data from photos of 434 members of the U.S. House of Representatives, which were fed into a computer to compare their faces to the norm for their sex. The computer program evaluated more than 100 dimensions, including the shape of the jaw, the location of eyebrows, the placement of cheek bones, the shape of eyes, the contour of the forehead and the fullness of the lips.

"We weren't looking at hairstyle, jewellery or whether a person was wearing make up or not," Carpinella says.

According to the data, the faces of Republican women were, on average, twice as sex-typical (i.e. feminine) as those of Democratic women.

Carpinella and colleagues then showed 120 undergraduate students the 434 faces and asked them to guess the lawmaker's political party.

Women with the highest rankings for femininity were the most likely to be accurately judged as Republican, the researchers found.

"I suppose we could call it the 'Michele Bachmann effect,'" says Kerri Johnson, the study's senior author and an assistant professor of communication studies and psychology at UCLA.

Lindy West at Jezebel.com argues the conservative path is friendlier to conventionally attractive women than to those with less "mainstream" looks. "So is it any surprise that Republican women tend to read 'pretty?' " she writes. "It's a much tougher path for the women who don't."

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The Daily Beast, inspired by the UCLA study, performed its own sidewalk survey, asking passersby to rate the femininity of female politicians from team Democrat and team Republican.

"Participants said 'piercing eyes,' blonde hair and perceived plastic surgery seemed more Republican, while dowdy suits, a serious gaze and close-cropped bobs read Democrat," the Daily Beast reports.

Maybe it's time for a generation of girly-girl Liberals and butch-looking Conservatives to prove everyone wrong.

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About the Author

Adriana Barton is based in The Globe and Mail’s Vancouver bureau. Her article on growing up with counterculture parents is published in a McGraw-Hill anthology, right after an essay by Margaret Atwood. She wishes her last name didn’t start with B. More

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