Will Voters Be Able to Resist John Thune’s Perfect, Sexy Face in 2012?

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Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Whenever the topic of potential Republican candidates for president in 2012 comes up, speculation usually involves some familiar names — Sarah Palin, Mitt Romney, Tim Pawlenty, etc. — and then a couple of guys that only political types have even ever heard of. People like South Dakota senator John Thune. Thune has been "receiving considerable encouragement to run," and though he's been evasive about his intentions, his travel to swing states "has led some observers to conclude the South Dakota senator is laying the groundwork for a White House bid." Republican insiders love him, and the DNC is scared of him. So what makes John Thune, of all people, so formidable?

It's not exactly groundbreaking news, but according to an MIT study, a candidate's aesthetic appeal holds a lot of sway with voters. In short, respondents from the United States, Mexico, and India pretty much agreed with each other about which candidates "would make a better elected official" just by looking at photos of them. And the candidates they picked were often the ones that actually got elected.

[S]imply knowing which candidate the participants judged to have a superior appearance allowed the researchers to correctly predict the winner in 68 percent of Mexican elections and 75 percent of some Brazilian elections.

Luckily for John Thune and his chiseled face, he will probably have the "superior appearance" in whatever race he runs in. He sure did in 2004:

Though he hesitated to apply the team’s findings to specific races this election season, [Associate professor Gabriel] Lenz cited South Dakota Sen. John Thune’s 2004 victory over then-Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle as a “fun case” of a politician who gained momentum from his appearance.

That year, Thune became the first challenger in 52 years to unseat a member of Senate leadership — and is also widely acknowledged as handsome and good-looking. Arizona Sen. John McCain, a presidential candidate in 2000 and 2008, has joked that if he had Thune’s face, he’d be president right now.

Maybe! Perhaps (but probably not) all the Republicans needed last year really was John Thune's face. Luckily for them, John Thune has John Thune's face, and he might run in 2012.

Appearances matter in politics [Politico]
MIT researchers demonstrate how much candidate appearances affect election outcomes [MIT]