Political parties should consider nominating more attractive candidates, or at least ensure that all candidates have more professional and appealing photos taken for elections, a study by the Bauhinia Foundation Research Centre has suggested.

The foundation conducted a survey between May 13 and May 23, inviting participants to rate District Council candidates based on their official election photos, in a website modelled after the app Tinder. Around 2,240 respondents participated in the survey, selecting from options super dislike, dislike, like and super like in one of the polls.

Participants were asked to rate candidates based on their appearance. Photo: Bauhinia Foundation Research Centre.

The results found that candidates who were rated highly by the users in the poll tended to win higher vote shares in the District Council elections. Though causation was not proven, the top ten percent by appearance rating had an average vote share of 47 percent at the election last November, while the bottom ten percent had an average vote share of 30 percent.

In general, the effect of appearance ratings on vote share was more significant only for the top 20 percent and the bottom 20 percent of candidates rated by appearance.

Tycoon Lau Ming-wai, the foundation’s vice chairman, told reporters that candidates may need to consider using beauty apps or Photoshop to retouch their election photos, especially for some candidates whose photos looked yellowed or where they were not looking at the camera.

Photo: Bauhinia Foundation Research Centre.

However, only four of the top ten female candidates by appearance selected by users eventually won in the election. Seven of the top ten male candidates won.

The study also found that incumbency also had a positive and significant effect on vote share, that District Councillors and relatively attractive candidates tended to win more votes than non-incumbents and unattractive candidates.

Photo: Bauhinia Foundation Research Centre.

Better odds

A second poll asked participants to select their preferred candidate from a list of photos belonging to candidates who competed in the same constituency.

It found that participants selected actual election winners at rates higher than winning odds – that being 50 percent for two-candidate races, 33 percent for three-candidate races and so forth.

For two-candidate races, which made up the majority of constituencies in the election, 58.6 percent of the participants selected the winning candidate. In three-candidate races, the accuracy rate was 40.4 percent. Younger candidates had a slight advantage over older candidates in two-candidate elections in terms of vote share.

However, the survey has some limitations, such the fact that it was only conducting online, and could not verify whether users were accurately reporting their personal information, or whether they recognised the candidates they were evaluating. Over 70 percent of the users identified as between 18 and 29 years old, and 72.3 percent identified as male, meaning it was not representative of the demographics of Hong Kong.

The Bauhinia Foundation Research Centre is an independent policy think tank founded in March 2006.

Kris Cheng

Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.