Two years ago a fresh, young firebrand from the Bronx pulled off a stunning coup de main against the tired, pasty congressman, Joe Crowley. Last week, with a series of primaries across New York, the revolution continued.
The primary victories of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez two years ago, and of Jamaal Bowman and Mondaire Jones this week, are emblematic of a wider generational shift in American politics. One that bodes very poorly for conservatives of the future. They also demonstrate another, though not entirely unrelated, divide in American politics: between the young, charismatic, and attractive left; and the boring, withered, and unattractive right.
The late Democratic governor of Texas, Ann Richards, once toasted: “May you be as rich as a Republican and have the sex life of a Democrat.” Even at her advanced age of 58, the queen of the Lone Star State still had a flamboyant personality that would have made her poorly suited to the Republican party. That was in the 1990s, shortly before a young, charming Bill Clinton took on a wrinkled, right-wing George H.W. Bush, and an even more right-wing and unattractive Ross Perot.
30 years later, the parallels between individuals’ political affiliation and physical desirability are even more defined. In 2017, “Cool Cat” Barack Obama waltzed out of the Oval Office on the same day as that human slab of meat, Donald Trump, waddled in. Earlier that month, on Capitol Hill, Democratic lawmakers settled into their offices at the same time as the overly-white, overly-male, and relatively old members of the Republican delegation were settling into theirs. Never had the (quite literal) physical divide between the two parties been so great.
In the country at large, the Democratic party is similarly younger and more diverse. The attractive, well-dressed Democrats of America’s cities are a far cry from their rural, conservative contemporaries, whose idea of fashion is limited to camouflage pants and saggy sports jerseys. Whether in the cornfields of Iowa or the suburbs of Long Island, poorly grown beards and protruding beer bellies seem to be prerequisites for membership of the Young Republicans. Even in the esteemed Yale Political Union, it isn’t hard to tell who’s on the right and who’s on the left. Khaki pants and an ill-fitting blazer are a give away sign that you consider yourself “pro-life” and disagree with sex before marriage—pretending of course that the latter is even a choice.
The phenomenon is not only an American one. As Ocasio-Cortez is to Trump, so Brazil’s Tabata Amaral is to Jair Bolsonaro. The rise of young people across the world fighting for a left-wing future has radically altered the demographics of political allegiances. In 1988, the age breakdown between Michael Dukakis and George Bush was not clear cut. Just as, only ten years ago, Britain’s political parties enjoyed relatively equal support from every age group. In the time since, young people have swung hard to the left on both sides of the Atlantic. There is a new political wave rising across the world, and it is younger, fresher, and overwhelmingly left-wing.
The only major study to examine the correlation between physical attractiveness and political allegiance was completed in 2018 by Rolfe D. Peterson of the little-known Susquehanna University. He found that attractive Americans were more likely to be Republicans than Democrats. Yet, living up to the low academic expectations of an intellectually unserious institution, Peterson’s study used data that was almost 50 years old. In the time since, the cultural divisions between right and left have changed dramatically. Since the 1970s, the Republican party has dropped its support for the Equal Rights Amendment and increasingly attacked women’s freedoms. In a slow but serious lurch to the right, the Republicans have increasingly relied on men and religious conservatives to win elections and lost the support of women. The gender gap between the two parties is larger than ever.
This changing political landscape goes some way to explain why modern-day Democrats are more attractive and Republicans are increasingly undesirable. Faced with an increasingly liberated class of women, the white, weak-chinned, balding members of the American electorate vote Republican to protect their precarious social status. Uglier men fear the liberation of women and people of color because they fear a level playing field. They strive to protect existing hierarchies because they will not survive in a society where charisma and attractiveness have more merit.
Left-wing politicians should embrace this new political reality. It is an old dictum that some low-income immigrants vote Republican—against their own interests—because they consider it a sign of success. Only when you mark an X next to a red candidate, the logic goes, have you really made it in America. With the rise of a cooler, more attractive, more desirable left-wing politics, there is an opening for the left to take advantage of a kind of material signaling of their own.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Jamaal Bowman understand that, in politics, to be cool is to be successful. These two hot, young socialists from New York challenged the Democratic establishment and won with charisma and social media savvy. People were attracted to them. Drawn to them. They represented a politics that is fresh and desirable and a far cry from the stale status-quo of balding old men battling for votes.
The “halo effect” (the general tendency for voters to favor the more attractive candidate), coupled with a younger, fresher, and hotter international left, bodes well for progressives of the future.
If this trend continues, the western world is in for a definitively socialist future.
A very sexy one at that.