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Between the Lines: How Politicians Use Color Psychology to Win Your Votes - The LAMP

Between the Lines: How Politicians Use Color Psychology to Win Your Votes

By February 28, 2012 News 3 Comments


Rick Santorum perfects his visual brand with sweater vests. Cartoon from

Rick Santorum perfects his visual brand with sweater vests. Cartoon from

Like it or not, it’s US Presidential Election time. Candidates hoping to move into the White House (or remain there) are busy creating and selling their image. Yes, just like sneakers, beer, and dish-washing liquid, the candidates themselves are the products for sale and each one has a team of handlers, public relations experts, and marketers carefully creating their image to sell to the voters. Being able to read between the lines as the candidates debate each other or try to win us over can be entertaining as well as enlightening. A few things to look out for this election cycle are color and clothing choices, specific word choices and catch phrases, body language and gestures, as well as props and objects of association.

Today we’ll take a brief look at color and clothing choices. Please note that since the remaining candidates for the 2012 election are all male, I refer mainly to men’s attire such as ties and suits. However color psychology plays an important role in the clothing choices of both genders.

Color and Clothing Choices

When we see certain colors, they produce chemical reactions in our brains that can make us feel certain emotions. For example you are more likely to order more food in a restaurant that is decorated with a lot of red because that color makes us hungry. Sports teams often paint the opposing team’s locker room pink because that color makes people tired. Guests on late night TV hang out in the Green Room before coming on stage because that color is the most calming and relaxing. So what could certain candidates be trying to sell you via their color and clothing choices?

Blue suits, shirts, and ties:

Blue is probably the most popular color on the campaign trail. Dark blue makes us feel like the person wearing it is smart, together, and trustworthy. It’s also the number one color to wear to a job interview and the applicants for president know that. Alternatively, look for candidates who want to appear like “regular average Americans” when they wear light blue shirts with the sleeves rolled up. Candidates who are accused of lying or being phony often sport a lot of dark blue to psychologically counter that image.

Black and gray suits:

Black can give an air of authority or power so you will see these a lot during the election season, especially at more formal events. Dark gray makes the candidate seem very conservative. Light grays, blues, and other soft colors make the candidate appear social and approachable.


Mitt Romney chooses a red power tie to seal the deal on his nomination. Photo from

Red ties:

Red is an aggressive color that can make us feel passionate, angry, or hungry. The candidates in red ties want you to think they are decisive, bold, assertive, and powerful. Candidates accused of flip-flopping often roll out the red ties.

Brown suits and ties:

They are trying to appear down to earth. (Paris Hilton wore lots of brown and beige, sported a conservative bob haircut, and embraced the Bible when she was released from prison in 2007 to help shed her party-girl image.) Sadly, brown suits on men also make one appear old fashioned, out of date, and out of touch, so more likely you might see beige or khaki pants or other brown/beige ties and accessories instead.

Purple ties:

They may be trying to come off as a guru or above the fray since it is a color associated mainly with religions, spirituality, luxury, and royalty. You will often see a lot of financial advisers wearing purple ties on TV.


President Obama connects to the 99% with a brown and beige tie. Photo from

Wild or unconventional ties:

You won’t see this too often from the main candidates but usually they are worn by those trying to get our attention and who want to be seen as creative, unique, or as an alternative or fresh choice. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie recently appeared on Piers Morgan Tonight sporting a fat hot pink tie. Could he be looking to remain in the public eye?




Color psychology is a fascinating topic and one that I cover with most of my art and design students every semester. For those of you that would like to put color psychology to work for you straight away in your own wardrobes, I suggest this excellent article from For a bibliography of even more color resources (from art to marketing and everything in between), check out

In the weeks ahead I will touch on the other marketing techniques used to sell the candidates. Can you read between the lines when you see a politician making a speech? What do you notice that others miss?

–Kristen Palana

Kristen Palana is a Professor of Digital Media at The American University of Rome. Visit her online at