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Do voters like obese candidates?

By Dylan Matthews
Chris Christie
Would New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie be an electable Republican nominee? (Mel Evans/AP)

Nick Baumann, Adam Serwer and our own Suzy Khimm are having a Twitter argument over whether New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie -- who, I agree with Ezra, seems like the strongest candidate the GOP could nominate in 2012 -- is electable, given his weight.

There's surprisingly little research on this question, but an interesting study came out just this year suggesting that obesity could actually help candidates -- provided they're male. Beth Miller and Jennifer Lundgren asked 120 college students to evaluate four candidates: a liberal Democrat, a conservative Democrat, a liberal Republican and a conservative Republican. The researchers varied the gender and body weight of candidates, and also provided different pictures for obese and non-obese candidates. Obese women were evaluated worse than non-obese women, but obese men were evaluated more positively than non-obese men:

Obese female candidates were evaluated more negatively overall and assessed more negatively in terms of reliability, dependability, honesty, dependability, able to inspire, and able to perform a strenuous job than nonobese female candidates. In contrast, obese male candidates were rated more positively than nonobese male candidates.

Now, this study has the usual problems experiments using college students have, and I'd be interested in a study comparing outcomes of actual races between obese and non-obese candidates. But if nothing else, the study serves as a reminder that anti-fat bias is often an extension of sexism.

Dylan Matthews is a student at Harvard and a researcher at The Washington Post.

By Dylan Matthews  | November 10, 2010; 12:49 PM ET
 
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Comments

Well, fat heads have never been a problem in politics.

Posted by: S1VA | November 10, 2010 1:11 PM | Report abuse

Well, I don't know about guts and butts, but fat heads have never been a problem in politics!

Posted by: S1VA | November 10, 2010 1:11 PM | Report abuse

Christie/Daniels '12: Just use our average.

Posted by: stevie314 | November 10, 2010 1:39 PM | Report abuse

It doesn't seem to hurt Barbara Mikulski one ounce.

Posted by: adamnescot1 | November 10, 2010 1:51 PM | Report abuse

Is this a serious topic? If it came down to just physical characteristics, it would depend on what kind of obese. There is sumo wrestler kind of obese, there is NFL football player kind of obese, and there is the kind of obese just outside the range of being overweight. So it depends.

Posted by: tuber | November 10, 2010 1:57 PM | Report abuse

the country can't have him yet. We still need him to continue cutting the fat that is the NJ teachers and government unions and municipalities budgets. I'm thinking 2016 should be good.

Posted by: visionbrkr | November 10, 2010 2:38 PM | Report abuse

No, a good drubbing by President Obama in '12 sounds right to me, visionbrkr...

Posted by: MosBen | November 10, 2010 2:50 PM | Report abuse

I'd put Christie's odds of earning the GOP nod at nil. He's ugly, he's unlikeable, he comes from a state that is lousy with corruption, he's a starve-the-beast libertarian who will look about 5 inches tall when he leaves his Randian amen circle. Believe it or not, on the national stage, people want ideas.

Posted by: falsedichotomy | November 10, 2010 3:49 PM | Report abuse

Chris Christie has actually lost a lot of weight. And he has a lot better ideas than Obama and company.

Posted by: krazen1211 | November 10, 2010 4:03 PM | Report abuse

Chris Christie has actually lost a lot of weight. And he has a lot better ideas than Obama and company.

Posted by: krazen1211 | November 10, 2010 4:03 PM | Report abuse

It's interesting they asked college students, people who vote so little. Obviously, this was done to save time and money. It would have been nice to ask a sample weighted by propensity to vote.

Posted by: RichardHSerlin | November 11, 2010 8:04 AM | Report abuse

Ok, I read on; I see you covered that.

But I also looked a little at the study. In the sample photos, they compared a wimpy looking man to a big burly photoshopped version, not an obese man, at least not obese as in really fat like Christie.

Clearly big and burly can beat wimpy in the all important superficial evaluation of candidates, but blubbery versus trim and fit or medium and not wimpy is another thing entirely.

Like a lot of studies, it's important to look at the details to not be mislead.

Posted by: RichardHSerlin | November 11, 2010 8:20 AM | Report abuse

Yeah, you just can't help but love hearing fat slobs like christie and barbour breathe. Disgusting.

Posted by: notfooledbydistractions1 | November 11, 2010 8:23 AM | Report abuse

Remember, by the popular BMI definition ripped to the bone muscleman Sylvester Stallone is obese, so is tall chiseled heartthrob Hugh Jackman.

Posted by: RichardHSerlin | November 11, 2010 8:24 AM | Report abuse

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