Saturday, November 22, 2008

Then Why Isn't Stuart Smalley Winning Minnesota?

From the British Psychological Society Research Digest Blog:

Voters are more willing to vote for male political candidates whom they perceive to have high self-esteem - a finding which could help explain President Elect Barack Obama's electoral success.

Uh really? How about the fact that he ran a better campaign and organized more voters and pretty much perfected internet outreach? And McCain stumbled around like he was drunk. Both ideologically and physically. And more importantly he alienated most of the country with his fundamentally ignorant and backwards VP choice. The most mockable choice for VP since James Stockdale.

But wait. What was that about male candidates? The study was conducted by Virgil Zeigler-Hill and Erin Myers in the Fall of 2007. 209 undergrads rated 8 Democratic and 10 Republican potential candidates.

As you'd expect, the students' own political affiliations played a key role in their willingness to vote.

So a higher self-esteem probably didn't affect choice between competing parties and it had the opposite affect among female Republican students, who were less willing to vote for male candidates rated with a high self-esteem. Furthermore, the female Republican subjects

also said they were unwilling to vote for [Hillary] Clinton regardless of how they perceived her self-esteem.

But still! Self-esteem explains a lot, right?

Zeigler-Hill and Myers' article1 includes another study in which the self-esteem level was provided: low, moderate, or high (a made-up quality based on a fictional analysis) and 293 students responded on their willingness to vote for each candidate.

In this study, Democratic females were not affect by Clinton's self-esteem level. Democratic males reported the highest levels of support for Clinton, but only when told that her self-esteem was low or moderate. They reported less support for her if she had high-self esteem (when their support is compared to Democratic females and also when compared to their own support based on the other levels).

Male Republicans reported uniform unwillingness to vote for Clinton regardless of her esteem level. Comparable to female Republicans except in the case of low self-esteem. Female Republicans were similarly unwilling to vote for Clinton if told that her esteem was high or moderate, but if told that her esteem was low they were more willing to vote for her.

Overall, the findings are consistent with Zeigler-Hill's implicit theory of self-esteem, which states that we (perhaps subconsciously) assume that people with high self-esteem also have other positive traits.

I tend to ignore claims of overall and consistent with unless we were expecting the opposite in a study. Consistency can also mean that it adds nothing to our knowledge of a system. Consistency can be a waste of time. And when we have to rely on overall to qualify that claim we're highlighting strategic disregard for significant results from a study.

The most telling result is probably the anomaly regarding Clinton. It's the one result that goes against the theories and the other outcomes.

If [women] are portrayed as having high self-esteem, they may be disliked. … However, if they appear to have low self-esteem, [they] may be viewed as less competent than their male counterparts.

That focus probably would have made a more interesting lede. Study shows that undergrads are sexists. Republican females being the worst.

Not any more accurate. But it's got a nice kick to it.

There are a lot of confounds that haven't been accounted for here. In the first study the students were simply shown an image and told to rate the esteem level of the individual. How did physical appearance affect the rating and the opinions. What of existing opinions and attitudes towards the candidates? And other issues that are invariably considered in a vote, such as policy positions, qualifications and intelligence. How about the definition and implications of self-esteem? How high is high and what does it mean? Does it mean that they think they're better than me? 'Cause I hate arrogance you know. Does it mean that they have the confidence to be humble? 'Cause kindness is a turn-on you know.

† The important difference being that Stockdale was much more capable and intelligent than he seemed and Palin is probably far less capable than she seems. Really.

1. "Is high self-esteem a path to the White House? The implicit theory of self-esteem and the willingness to vote for presidential candidates" Personality and Individual Differences, 46 (1), 14-19

(image from here)

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