Study: Description of woman's appearance damages her reputation among voters
By Dylan Byers
Descriptions of a female candidate's appearance -- whether negative, neutral or positive -- hurt her reputation among voters, according to a new survey being promoted by the Women's Media Center "Name It, Change It" project.
"In the survey on media coverage of women candidates’ appearance, conducted by Celinda Lake of Lake Research Partners and Robert Carpenter of Chesapeake Beach Consulting, the research used actual quotes about women candidates from media coverage of the 2012 elections and demonstrates that when the media focuses on a woman candidate’s appearance, she pays a price in the polls," the WMC press release states. "This finding held true whether the coverage of a woman candidate’s appearance was framed positively, negatively or in neutral terms."
The survey comes days after President Obama drew criticism for his comments about California Attorney General Kamala Harris, who he described as "brilliant," "dedicated," "tough" but also as "by far, the best looking attorney general in the country." Obama later apologized to Harris for the comment, according to White House press secretary Jay Carney, but the incident created fierce debate online and on Twitter over when, if ever, it was acceptable to publicly compliment individuals on their appearance.
Unlike women, male candidates do not suffer from coverage of their appearance, according to the survey. "While this appearance coverage is very damaging to women candidates, the male opponent paid no price for this type of coverage," a summary of the report states.
The survey was conducted with 1,500 likely U.S. voters (with an oversample of 100 young women voters) who were asked to vote on a hypothetical Congressional contest between female candidate Jane Smith and male candidate Dan Jones.
"Voters read a pro?le about the two candidates and then heard a series of news stories about each," the summary states. "The full sample heard a story about the male candidate that covered his position on an education bill. In the stories about the female candidate, in addition to focusing on the education bill, we included various descriptions of her appearance. A quarter of the voters, a control group, heard a description of Jane Smith that did not reference her appearance in any way. A quarter of voters heard a neutral description; a quarter heard a positive description; and a quarter heard a negative description."
Smith won, by two percentage points, only among voters who were given no description of her appearance.