Occasional Papers | Public administration and legal system | 2016-09-29

Candidate appearance, recognition and vote share in LegCo elections

The Bauhinia Foundation Research Centre (the Centre) released on September 29, 2016 a new edition of Occasional Paper “Candidate Appearance, Recognition, and Vote Share in Legislative Council Elections,” which discusses the findings of the Centre’s study on Legislative Council (LegCo) candidates and the impact of candidate appearance on vote share.

Overseas research have consistently demonstrated that candidates' appearances have an impact on election results. The Centre’s trial study on candidate appearance in the 2015 District Council (DC) elections also suggested that appearance may have a positive correlation with vote share for local elections, although the study had many limitations that prevented the Centre from making firm conclusions. To examine if candidate appearance is correlated with vote share on LegCo elections, and to continue experimenting with the feasibility of gamified online surveys designed for mobile devices, the Centre created a modified version of the trial study which was designed to measure candidate appearance and competence while investigating the correlation between the ratings and vote share in this year’s LegCo elections.

The LegCo survey was conducted from August 18, 2016 to September 4, 2016. The survey invited participants to rate 93 candidates from the 2016 LegCo geographical and DC (second) functional constituency elections on their appearance and competence, based on their official election photos. The platform design differed significantly from the methodology used by telephone polling and academic studies conducted on candidate appearance in overseas contexts. For example, since the survey was conducted using online volunteers, the participants could not constitute a random and representative sample of the Hong Kong population. Also, the platform could not verify that users were accurately reporting their personal information or that they did not recognise the candidates they were evaluating. The sample was biased in favour of users who self-identified as young (aged 18 to 29) males and “localist” supporters. It is also likely that some participants erroneously indicated that they did not recognise some candidates in our survey, either intentionally or out of error, due to the “high-information” nature of the LegCo elections.

Our survey results show that candidates who were given high competence and appearance ratings on a scale of 1-5 by participants who were unable to recognise any of their faces did not have a significant advantage in terms of vote share over their competitors. In addition, we found that candidates who were recognised by more participants had significantly higher vote share than candidates who were less recognised. Thus, while there is no strong correlation between candidate appearance or competence ratings and vote share in the 2016 LegCo elections, there does appear to be a significant positive correlation between recognition rate and vote share.

The major limitation stemming from the data set is that our sample was not representative of the 2016 LegCo voting population demographics. Also, we were unable to verify whether participants provided inaccurate information or whether participants filled out the survey multiple times. Nonetheless, the LegCo study confirms that our online polling method has considerable appeal among young male netizens and it can attract a large number of respondents over a short period of time. We hope to continue exploring the potential for online polling to make unique contributions in political and social research. In future LegCo elections, prospective candidates may find that recognition rates are probably more important than appearance.

Please refer to the Paper for details.


Occasional Paper