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Weight bias in US candidate selection and election

Patricia V. Roehling (Department of Psychology, Hope College, Holland, Michigan, USA)
Mark V. Roehling (Department of Human Resources and Industrial and Labor Relations, Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan, USA)
Ashli Brennan (Department of Psychology, Hope College, Holland, Michigan, USA)
Ashley R. Drew (Department of Psychology, Hope College, Holland, Michigan, USA)
Abbey J. Johnston (Department of Psychology, Hope College, Holland, Michigan, USA)
Regina G. Guerra (Department of Psychology, Hope College, Holland, Michigan, USA)
Ivy R. Keen (Department of Psychology, Hope College, Holland, Michigan, USA)
Camerra P. Lightbourn (Department of Psychology, Hope College, Holland, Michigan, USA)
Alexis H. Sears (Department of Psychology, Hope College, Holland, Michigan, USA)

Equality, Diversity and Inclusion

ISSN: 2040-7149

Article publication date: 13 May 2014

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Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this paper is to use data from the 2008 and 2012 US Senate elections to examine the relationship between candidate size (obese, overweight, normal weight) and candidate selection and election outcomes.

Design/methodology/approach

Using pictures captured from candidate web sites, participants rated the size of candidates in the primary and general US Senate elections. χ2 analyses, t-tests and hierarchical multiple regressions were used to test for evidence of bias against overweight and obese candidates and whether gender and election information moderate that relationship.

Findings

Obese candidates were largely absent from the pool of candidates in both the primary and general elections. Overweight women, but not overweight men, were also underrepresented. Supporting our hypothesis that there is bias against overweight candidates, heavier candidates tended to receive lower vote share than their thinner counterparts, and the larger the size difference between the candidates, the larger the vote share discrepancy. The paper did not find a moderating effect for gender or high-information high vs low-information elections on the relationship between candidate size and vote share.

Research limitations/implications

Further research is needed to understand the process by which obese candidates are culled from the candidate pool and the cognitions underlying the biases against overweight candidates.

Social implications

Because of the bias against obese political candidates, as much as one-third of the adult US population are likely to be excluded or being elected to a major political office.

Originality value

This study is the first to use election data to examine whether bias based on size extends to the electoral process.

Keywords

Citation

V. Roehling, P., V. Roehling, M., Brennan, A., R. Drew, A., J. Johnston, A., G. Guerra, R., R. Keen, I., P. Lightbourn, C. and H. Sears, A. (2014), "Weight bias in US candidate selection and election", Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, Vol. 33 No. 4, pp. 334-346. https://doi.org/10.1108/EDI-10-2013-0081

Publisher

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Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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