Female politicians have another reason to hate it when the media mentions their fashion and hairstyle. Extensive new surveys find that even compliments in news stories chip away at the credibility and polling of women candidates.
"Women candidates pay a real price when they are covered in a way that focuses on their appearance," said Democratic pollster Celinda Lake. "In close races, sexist coverage on top of the attacks that every candidate faces can make the difference between winning and losing."
Two groups, the Women's Media Center and She Should Run, asked Lake Research Partners and Robert Carpenter of Chesapeake Beach Consulting to survey the impact of the media's obsession with female fashion and sexist coverage.
Among the findings, said the pollsters, was the "startling" discovery that any mention of a female candidate's clothing or style knocked her down a few pegs, especially when it came to traits like "being in touch," likability, and confidence.
The survey asked 1,500 likely voters to consider imaginary candidates Jane Smith and Dan Jones. Four groups were given different descriptions of Smith. When no mention of fashion was offered, Smith edged Jones 50 percent to 48 percent. But when differing aspects of Smith's wardrobe were mentioned, her numbers tumbled while Jones' increased.
A neutral description depicting Smith's "brown blouse, black skirt, and modest pumps," sent her numbers down to 46 percent. A critical description of her "unflattering look," pushed her numbers lower, to 42 percent. And even a flattering portrayal of Smith as "fit and attractive" had her losing to Jones 54 percent to 43 percent.
The pollsters, however, did find that when a female candidate rapped the media's coverage, her numbers increased. "When a woman candidate responds directly by saying this coverage has no place in the media and that her appearance is not news, she regains the ground she lost," said Lake and Carpenter.