Facial Masculinity in Ukrainian Politics | VoxUkraine

Facial Masculinity in Ukrainian Politics

Photo: depositphotos / Anna_Om
19 July 2019

A candidate with facial traits as perceived “competent” is likely to gain more votes. Similarly, facial traits that make a person appear “dominant” could influence electoral success. Given the increasing importance of politicians’ physical traits and politicians’ usage of social media to increase their visual presentation in public’s eye, we expect a political candidate’s facial appearance to play a role in voters’ decision.

Among several attributes of facial appearance, masculinity is considered as one of the most important ones as it is associated with different traits which can affect decision-making. These traits include actual dominant behaviour, behaviour of sensation seeking, aggression, cheating and deception or competition and risk-taking. These links between facial masculinity and traits are even more important in the context of politics since some of them are highly politically relevant (e.g. low level of aggression could indicate a preference for pacifism).

In an attempt to examine the link between facial masculinity and politicians’ traits, researchers collected and compared data on 29 US Presidents. Using the list of Presidents started from John Adams and ended by Ronald Reagan, they estimated the width-to-height ratio ratios (see Table 1). Character traits measures are based on presidents numerous historical texts, rated on the Gough Adjective Scale. Their key findings are that width-to-height ratio ratio is positively associated with achievement drive but negatively linked to the trait “poise and polish”. 

Table 1. Names and facial width-to-height ratio of the US presidents used in the study (Table 1 in Lewis et al., 2012).  

President fWHR President fWHR
John Quincy Adams 1.99 William H. Taft 2.01
Zachary Taylor 1.86 Woodrow Wilson 1.78
Millard Fillmore 2.04 Warren G. Harding 1.91
Franklin Pierce 1.89 Calvin Coolidge 2.04
James Buchanan 1.88 Herbert Hoover 2.30
Abraham Lincoln 1.93 Franklin D. Roosevelt 1.88
Andrew Johnson 2.18 Harry S. Truman 2.01
Ulysses S. Grant 2.07 Dwight D.Eisenhower 2.04
Rutherford B.Hayes 1.93 John F. Kennedy 2.13
James Garfield 2.06 Lyndon B. Johnson 2.04
Chester A. Arthur 1.80 Richard Nixon 1.91
Grover Cleveland 2.05 Gerald Ford 1.96
Benjamin Harrison 1.88 Jimmy Carter 2.15
William McKinley 1.90 Ronald Reagan 1.98
Theodore Roosevelt 2.03    

In our approach we also measure facial masculinity by the facial width-to-height ratio (fWHR). Width is measured by the distance between the left and the right zygion (bizygomatic width) while height is the distance between the upper lip and the midpoint of the inner ends of the eyebrows (upper facial height). Figure 1 provides an example.

Figure 1. Image from Appendix 1 in Kamiya et al. 2019. 

In our investigation, we examine the prevalence of masculinity in Ukrainian politics by measuring the fWHR index of the candidates running for the 2019 Parliamentary Election. We collect information about constituencies, nominations, and the photos of parliamentary candidates from cvk.gov.ua, the website of Ukraine’s Central Electoral Commission. 

In total, 3,155 photos were downloaded. We kept only photos of male candidates as fWHR ratio approach is applicable only to male counterparts. Unfortunately, very few (about 5-8%) of candidates from party lists have photos. Thus, we restrict our analysis to candidates from  single-mandate districts (majorytarnyky).  Our final sample is 2,637 candidates, which is dominated by self-nominated candidates (60%). The second most represented is pro-presidential party Sluga Narodu, followed by Batkivschyna. 

Figure 2: MP Candidates’ Masculinity by Major Parties

The first observation in our analysis is that the average fWHR of Ukrainian MP candidates (i.e. 2.15) is slightly higher than the average fWHR of US Presidents (i.e. 2) that is documented in the research about the US mentioned above. 

Figure 2 shows MP candidates’ masculinity by the party that they are affiliated with. The analysis focuses on the top 12 parties in Ukraine. We observe that Svoboda political party includes the highest percentage of candidates with high masculine features, which is consistent with the political beliefs of this party. In fact, this political party ideology is focused on Ukraine as one of geopolitical centres of Europe. 

Opposition Block and Gromadyanska Positsiya (Civic Position) show the lowest measures of candidates’ masculinity. These parties have no radical ideas in their programs and position themselves as peaceful and caring for people, Among other less aggressive parties are pro-presidential Sluga Narodu and Vakarchuk’s Golos.

Figure 3: Electoral districts in Ukraine

We next move to the discussion of fWHR index differences across Ukrainian regions. Figure 3 shows that candidates that share the most masculine features are based in Western Ukraine. In particular, Chernivtsi, Rivne, Ivano-Frankivsk and Zakarpattya regions are in top 5. In contrast, the lowest average masculine index is observed in Eastern Ukraine, with Luhansk region concluding the list. These differences de-facto resemble Figure 2 scores: Svoboda has more candidates in the West while the Opposition Block is more supported in the Eastern Ukraine.

Recent polls suggest that Sluga Narodu is likely to get the majority of votes (42-52%). Among other leaders are Opposition Platform – Za Zhyttya (10-13%), European Solidarity (8%), Batkivshchyna (6-7%), Golos (4-9%). If we extrapolate results of the US scholars  into Ukrainian data one can argue that the future Ukrainian parliament is less likely to have an achievement drive. In other words, decision-making would be more dependent on circumstances and one would expect numerous discussions before major decisions are made. However, one has to bear in mind that in this article we look only at majoritarian candidates who fill in slightly less than a half of parliamentary seats.

Ukranian parties offer voters plenty of choices, including how their candidates look. Would Ukrainians choose “tough-looking” European Solidarity or “peace-oriented” Opposition Block? While we are awaiting the results of elections this Sunday, our analysis paints an early portrait of politicians who could populate the parliament in the nearest future.

  • Said Kaawach (Birmingham), Tho Pham (Reading), Oleksandr Talavera (Birmingham), Linh Tran (Swansea)


The authors do not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and have no relevant affiliations