Sarah Palin has science on her side

Palin and GibsonHere's the most interesting blog post I read all day. Political scientists at UCLA who asked students to rate the faces of hundreds of American candidates found that Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin — an unknown when they tested her — ranked in the top 5% for "facial competence." Her looks rate a 9.5 out of 10, says the academic who posted an amusing explainer at The Sprint, a new blog I helped set up for UCLA professors to analyze and comment on the last eight-week dash of the 2008 campaign for president. Joe Biden's face tested poorer than Palin's, but Mitt Romney scored higher.

In fact, we found across all candidates, for all offices, Republicans, on average, have more competent faces than Democrats. Take that for what you will, but incumbents tend to have more competent faces and Republicans were in the majority for most of the years covered in our survey.

Now you say, what about the politicians we really want to hear about? McCain? Obama? Hillary Clinton? I have not avoided mentioning them for the purposes of suspense. I have no scores for them. In doing the ratings, we removed the photos of candidates that the students were likely to recognize. The idea is to have the students make decisions based on appearance alone, not other opinions they might have about the person. Romney stayed in the sample because in spring 2007, when we conducted the survey, Romney was a nobody - at least to college students - the overwhelming majority of whom could not even identify a photo of their own, long serving Member of Congress, Henry Waxman.

The Sprint has just been up a couple of days, but there have been some pointed and provocative posts.

  • Amy Zegart, an intelligence expert who served on the National Security Council staff in the Clinton years and advised the Bush-Cheney campaign in 2000, posts that the campaigns should be focused more on intelligence reform: "Silence is the last thing Americans need on 9/11. What we need is action." She also dreams of a post-ovary politics where Palin runs on her record, not as a hockey mom.
  • Frank Gilliam Jr., dean of the School of Public Affairs, writes that social scientists can't confidently predict this election because the models "don't adequately account for the 'fourth quarter' effect. You see, people aren't sure if Obama can really handle the job of head coach. They aren't sure if the plays that worked in the first half are solid down the stretch, that he can call timeout at the appropriate time, or devise a clever play to get the last shot."
  • Public policy professor Mark Kleiman urged Democrats to reject bogus email attacks on Palin, saying there's plenty to go after her on legitimately. "Troopergate, and Palin's record of profligacy as mayor, and her wingnut political positions, and her ignorance of national issues are all good talking points. She's a target-rich environment."
  • "If field dressing a moose becomes more relevant to choosing a ticket than having a viable policy on millions of Americans without health care, we are in deep trouble," wrote professor of education Gary Orfield, calling for more substance in the national discussion.
  • Mark Sawyer, associate professor of political science, says a Republican win would turn the country over to one-party dominance: "I may sound alarmist but this campaign makes me fear for American Democracy."

The professors post unedited and comments will be unmoderated.

The Sprint


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