Obesity is on the rise in America except among its elected officials.
That’s according to a new study that found young voters prefer thinner candidates to their overweight opponents. These findings by Michigan State University (MSU) and Hope College professors could foreshadow some 2016 election results.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is a contender for the GOP presidential nomination but has struggled with his weight. Some observers believe Christie’s figure could be an image problem and a health issue if he enters the grueling White House campaign next cycle. Still, the Republican has managed to win two competitive gubernatorial elections.
In the study, though, researchers examined U.S. Senate candidates running in the 2008 and 2012 cycles. Using pictures captured from candidates’ web sites, 60 participants (undergraduates who received course credit) rated the size of candidates in the primary and general elections. Of the 190 candidates rated from 126 election — 49 from 2008 and 77 from 2012 — 158 were male and 32 were female. Forty-one percent of the male candidates were overweight and 2 percent were obese. None of the female candidates were obese but 16 percent were overweight.
After the candidates were rated for size, the researchers looked at ballot placement and vote totals. They found that obese candidates and overweight female candidates are less likely to get on the ballot, and overweight candidates from both sexes get a smaller vote total than their skinnier opponents. “This study provides evidence that the bias and discrimination against the overweight and obese that has been documented in areas of employment, education, health care and social situations also extends to the electoral process in the USA,” the researches write.
The findings held true for primaries and general election results. “We did not fine evidence that the bias against the overweight is more likely to occur in low-information elections,” the researchers write. “As a result of this bias against the obese as potential candidates, approximately one-third of American adults are blocked from pursuing a political career, representing an enormous loss of potential talent.”
The study was billed as the “first scientific investigation into whether weight bias affects election outcomes.” The findings, published in May in the journal Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, are based on “analyses, t-tests and hierarchical multiple regressions [that] were used to test for evidence of bias against overweight and obese candidates and whether gender and election information moderate that relationship.”