How Do Voters Evaluate the Age of Politicians?

Author Name Charles McCLEAN (University of California, San Diego) / ONO Yoshikuni (Faculty Fellow, RIETI)
Creation Date/NO. August 2020 20-E-069
Research Project Research on Political Behavior and Decision Making: Searching for evidence-based solutions to political challenges in the economy and industry
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Elected officials tend to be older than most of the constituents they represent. Is this because voters generally prefer older politicians over younger ones? We investigate this question by conducting two novel survey experiments in Japan where we ask respondents to evaluate the photos of hypothetical candidates for mayor, and then alter candidate faces using artificial neural networks to make them appear as if they are younger or older, while keeping their facial structure and contours intact. Contrary to the observed candidate pool for mayors, the voters in our experiments disliked elderly candidates the most, but viewed younger candidates as equally favorable as middle-aged candidates. We also find that younger and middle-aged voters view candidates from their age group more favorably than others, whereas older voters do not, and that all voters use age as a heuristic for a candidate's issue emphases and traits. We then provide evidence for the external validity of our results using new data on actual mayoral elections. Together, these findings suggest that it is supply-side factors rather than voter demand that explain the shortage of younger politicians in public office.