National / Politics

Smiling may help Japanese election candidates win more votes, study claims


With a spate of public office elections scheduled in the country this year, findings from a study by a university professor may offer good advice for those planning to run in the polls — smiling could earn candidates more votes.

In an occasion that occurs once every 12 years, both unified regional elections, which include gubernatorial, mayoral and local assembly polls, and a triennial election for the House of Councilors will be held this year, in April and in the summer, respectively.

Masahiko Asano, professor at Takushoku University in Tokyo, has been researching links between the smiles of election candidates on their campaign posters and how many votes they gain.

He launched the study after being inspired by a report published in a foreign academic journal claiming that the more election candidates smile, the more votes they get.

Using a special facial recognition system, Asano analyzed the smiles of some 6,000 people on their campaign posters, based on such factors as how widely their eyes and mouths are open and the state of wrinkles around their eyes, and rated them on a scale of zero to 100 points.

The finding was that those that smile receive more votes, under certain conditions, according to Asano.

His research covered six of the elections for the House of Representatives held between 1980 and 2017 — specifically, candidates in constituencies each with three to five seats for the 1980, 1983 and 1990 elections, and those in single-seat constituencies for the 2000, 2014 and 2017 elections.

Asano collected the images of the posters of the some 6,000 people by taking pictures and obtaining official election documents from the National Diet Library.

He found that the correlation was weaker for single-seat constituencies than for multiple-seat constituencies.

The professor explained: “In multiple-seat constituencies, two or more candidates run from the same party, so voters tend to cast ballots based on the image of the candidates, including the extent of their smile, rather than on their policies. In single-seat constituencies, in contrast, candidates’ policies and political parties to which they belong, instead of their facial expressions on their campaign posters, could be factors determining voting behavior.”

For 464 first-time candidates in single-seat constituencies in the 2017 election, meanwhile, he found that the more candidates a constituency has, the more effect a smile seems to have in obtaining votes.

No links were confirmed between smiles and votes acquired for constituencies with two or three candidates.

For constituencies each with four or more candidates, however, the share of votes won by a candidate tends to be several percentage points higher if they earn a full 100 points on the smile scale, compared with a case of zero points, after statistical treatment.

“In the situation that many candidates from various political parties are running, it’s very likely that how they look influences voting decisions,” Asano said.

But at the same time, Asano said: “I’m still at the stage of testing a hypothesis. I need to collect and analyze more data to examine to what degree a smile favorably affects the share of votes won.”