From Human Nature in 2012:
Aaron Sell & Liana S. E. Hone & Nicholas Pound
… Warfare and the Hollywood Action Star
If attitudes about warfare are causally tied to a man’s own sense of fighting ability, we would expect professions, industries, and coalitions of strong, powerful men to be more likely to endorse attitudes about the utility of political aggression as a means of resolving conflicts of interest. More interestingly, even among professions that are typically left-leaning with respect to attitudes about war,1 we should expect to find exceptions among those who are physically formidable. We tested for this pattern among a small group of
(Where the terms “left” and “right” are used in the present manuscript they are intended to refer to their commonly understood meanings in the contemporary United States, where “left-leaning” refers to beliefs typically associated with the Democratic Party, including a more “dovish” approach to war, whereas “rightleaning” refers to beliefs associated with the Republican Party, including a more “hawkish” approach to war.”
physically strong men, Hollywood action stars, who work and reside in a culture that is left-leaning compared with contemporary America, particularly when it comes to views on the utility of warfare. If physical strength in men leads to more positive views of the utility of war, then even in a population with predominately leftist attitudes, such as Hollywood actors, those actors known for their physical strength and formidability should be more likely to be supportive of military action.
Each actor was then put into one of two political categories regarding the utility of warfare: left-wing (i.e., warfare leads to more problems) or right-wing (i.e., warfare solves problems). Because the actors were largely American citizens and working in America during the late twentieth century, the “antiwar” position was indicated by support of the Democratic Party, which, to a large extent, opposed the Vietnam and Iraq wars, America’s most significant foreign military actions in the latter part of the century. The complications of history make this a simplification, but for the purposes of this study what matters is the public perception of the parties’ platforms. The Democratic Party has been the party supported by those who wish to end foreign incursions and the Republican Party has been the party supported by those who wish to use the U.S. military to attack America’s enemies (Aldrich et al. 2006). The actor’s political affiliation was assessed using a five-step ordered procedure:
- if the actor had run for office as a member of a political party, he was classified as a supporter of that party. One actor was classified by this criterion. & if the actor’s political donations to one party were more than double those to another, he was classified as a supporter of that party. Thirty-eight actors were classified by this criterion. & if the actor made direct statements regarding a military action by the United States he was categorized accordingly. Eight actors were classified by this criterion.
- if the actor made direct statements of support for a party or a politician, or if they
spoke at a party fund raiser or convention, they were categorized accordingly.
Eleven actors were classified by this criterion.
- finally, if not classified by any previous criteria, actors were classified by any
stated support they had for left-wing or right-wing causes. Only three actors were
classified according to this criterion based on support of these left-wing causes:
desire for more regulation of free market capitalism, support for Che Guevera, and preference for government-provided universal health care. …
As expected, Hollywood actors are generally more supportive of left-wing politics and politicians, with 47 [of 61] of the actors (77.0%) being categorized as left-wing and 14 (23.0%) as right-wing. Despite that general pattern, a chi-square test indicated significant differences in the distribution of political attitudes between different categories of actors (χ2 015.0; df02; p<0.001). As shown in Fig. 2, actors known for their physical strength and formidability—action stars—were the exception. More than half of Hollywood action stars in our sample (56.3%) were right-wing according to our categorization process. These included such imposing figures as Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis, Chuck Norris, Clint Eastwood, Sylvester Stallone, Dwayne Johnson (“the Rock”), and Charlton Heston. Post-hoc comparisons indicated that right-wing categorizations were significantly more common (χ2 013.9; df01; p<0.001) among action actors (56.3%) than dramatic actors (4.2%). Similarly, right-wing categorizations were more common (χ2 05.5; df01; p<0.05) among action actors than comedic actors (19.0%).
Consistent with the hypothesis that physical strength is linked to positive views of the utility of warfare, many of the action stars categorized as left-wing were indeed physically less imposing than their right-wing counterparts. For example, Nicholas Cage, Tom Cruise, Pierce Brosnan, and Keanu Reeves are prominent left-wing action stars but do not appear to have the same physiques as Schwarzenegger, Stallone, or Chuck Norris. Furthermore, several of the right-wing comedic and dramatic stars were also physically formidable, such as Matthew McConaughey and Vince Vaughn. Though they were not mentioned repeatedly by our subjects, and thus did not contribute to our analysis, many other physically formidable actors contributed to or supported right-wing political causes, including James Earl Jones, Tom Selleck, LL Cool J, Lorenzo Lamas, Dean Cain, Mickey Rourke, Clint Walker, Clancy Brown, Chuck Conners, Ronald Reagan, “Hulk Hogan,” and Kurt Russell.2 …
A simple independent t-test compared the height of right-wing actors (mean 72.7 inches) with the height of left-wing actors (mean 70.3 inches) on our list and showed that the right-wing actors were significantly taller …
The authors say they have posted the list of all 61 actors, but I can’t find it online.
I did a similar analysis in 2000 using campaign contributions:
Where have all the GOP celebrities gone?
BySTEVE SAILER, UPI National Correspondent
LOS ANGELES, Dec. 29, 2000 — … In 2000, however, Oscar-winning actors, actresses, and directors donated 40 times more money to Democrats than to Republicans. …
Although Republicans have sometimes appealed to action stars, Oscar-winner Nicolas Cage followed his uncle, director Francis Ford Coppola, into the Democratic column. Texas tough guy Tommy Lee Jones gave $2,000 to his old college roommate, Al Gore. And, while Kevin Costner once contributed to conservative Senator Phil Gramm, in 2000 he was back with the Hollywood herd, handing over $3,000 to the Vice President.
In case you are wondering, part-time Republican politician Clint Eastwood (who won an Oscar for directing “Unforgiven”) does not show up in the Center for Responsive Politics’ database as a contributor. (You can access their trove of Election Commission reports at www.OpenSecrets.org). While Clint couldn’t be bothered, his ex-wife Maggie Eastwood did send $1,000 to Republicans, however.
In contrast, only seven Academy Award winners gave to Republicans. And that number includes big Democratic donors Michael Douglas and Sidney Pollack, who each tossed $1,000 to maverick Republican challenger Senator John McCain. Other McCain donors include grizzled actor Robert Duvall and Milos Forman (director of “Amadeus”), who came to America as a refugee from Communist Czechoslovakia.
Just three award winners contributed to any Republicans besides the briefly trendy McCain. Renegade director Oliver Stone (“JFK”) split his contributions between Gore and Republican Congressman and Impeachment Trial manager James Rogan…
The other GOP givers were William Friedkin, who directed “The French Connection” way back in 1971, and, of course, National Rifle Association leader Charlton Heston.
No Academy Award winner gave to President-Elect Bush.
The Republicans also did poorly among non-Oscar winners with big fan bases. Several action movie actors are rumored to have Republican sympathies, but Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis, and Sylvester Stallone were no-shows in the 2000 donation database. Superstar Harrison Ford did give $1,000 to McCain, but he also handed $2,000 to Democrats. The only rock-ribbed Republican donor among action heroes is Chuck Norris, star of TV’s “Walker, Texas Ranger.”
Hone, Pound, and Sell (which sounds like advice) argue that height is of interest because it’s almost pure nature.
I wrote a 2012 column making a similar point about actors: Hormonal Politics.
One interesting question is whether it’s pure nature or part nurture. Hollywood stars exercise a lot, and it’s possible that choice of exercise regimen might influence political views. I pointed out a Sample Size of 2 experiment:
Here’s an extremely anecdotal Hollywood example of the political correlates of lifting v. running. Consider two television stars of highly rated cop shows: Gary Sinise (CSI: NY) and Mark Harmon (NCIS). These two actors strike me as reasonably comparable, perhaps because I used to see them around my old high school where their children went. And, I’ve admired both Sinise and Harmon for their work long before they became television leading men. Sinise was the artistic director in the 1980s of Chicago’s great Steppenwolf theater. And Harmon had a 17-5 won-loss record quarterbacking my favorite college football team, UCLA, in 1972-73.
If I’d had to guess their political causes based on their biographies — Sinise the Chicago theater kid whose father was a film editor v. Harmon the Bel-Air jock whose dad, Tom Harmon, won the 1940 Heisman Trophy — I would have bet on Sinise as a liberal and Harmon as a conservative.
In reality, their political activism is closer to the body types they’ve worked to develop and maintain. Neither is a big man, but Sinise looks like he lifts weights. Even though Harmon is the rare Hollywood star who was a genuine football hero — his slight frame must have taken a tremendous beating as the running QB of the Bruins’ wishbone offense — he hasn’t been much into putting on muscle since. Instead, he’s a distance runner.
Sinise is one of Hollywood’s most outspoken activists in a variety of conservative and patriotic causes. More than a few Republican operatives would like Sinise to carry on the Reagan-Schwarzenegger tradition by running for office.
In contrast, Harmon has been a gun control activist since his wife Pam Dawber’s costar Rebecca Schaefer was murdered by some stalker with a gun in 1989.
I don’t expect anybody to be terribly persuaded by this Sinise-Harmon comparison. My point, though, is that the proposition that different types of exercise could drive political views could be ethically tested on college students by offering free personal trainers. Randomly assign some volunteers to the weightlifting trainer, others to the running trainer, and measure if their attitudes change along with their shapes.
As Obama’s calculatedly divisive 2012 campaign demonstrates, the future of politics may look much stranger than what we’re familiar with. The parties will likely want to research how they can mold their own voters.