Thursday, May 9, 2013

Obesity and Political Viability

Much has been made about Chris Christie's recent lap band surgery in the context of the invisible primary; particularly by the class of folk who yell at each other on TV for a living, and even usually-reasonable columnists.  The obvious conclusion by the chattering classes: this was more politically than personally motivated.  The fact of the matter is that political science actually has something to say on this, and we say it based on something more than simple speculation.  Simply put, they don't know what the hell they're yelling and writing about.

This paper reporting experimental research by Miller, Lundgren, Filion, and Thompson has some interesting findings that suggests most overweight candidates don't have to worry too much about their body image management.  In fact, beanpoles like myself, may want to pack on a few extra pounds.  When shown digitally altered pictures of candidates and asked to make evaluations, respondents actually gave more positive feedback to most obese candidates than to non-obese ones.  "Most" is the important qualifier here.  Whilst obese males were systematically advantaged over their non-obese brothers (or in this case twin 'shopped' brothers), respondents had stronger negative emotional reactions to obese female candidates.  Body image is important, but it cuts in different directions for men and women.  Why am I not surprised?

Roping this all back to Gov. Christie, there's no earthly reason why he would undergo this invasive and risky procedure for simple political gain.  Even if he isn't aware of the political science out there, I can't imagine that someone of his personality, with all his political success and popularity would even begin to feel that his weight is an issue.  I for one, take him at his word.  The invisible primary explains a lot of political behavior, but not on this.


  1. Yeah, at the very least it seems like it wouldn't matter at this point even if he lost a lot of weight. The political media would just cover that as a story with then vs. now type stuff. And then have talking heads say if it is enough. And late night comics and such woulds still be making the same jokes just with different punch lines.

    Anyway if you want reasons why Christie won't be president I might suggest Jonathan Chait's points on how Republicans in the rest of the country see's New Jersey:

    1. Anyway all this Christie stuff is pretty awful. It's like asking how much Martin O'Malley can bench, but a lot uglier.