Perrspectives - Bringing light to Darkness

Least Surprising Study Ever Finds Conservatives Prefer "Feminine" Women Candidates

May 20, 2014

Last week, a new study published in Social Psychology and Personality Science offered some very timely--if very predictable--findings about women candidates in politics. Even as Republicans were launching vicious attacks about Hillary Clinton's age and health while rushing to the defense of Oregon GOP Senate hopeful and accused stalker Monica Wehby, Dartmouth College professor Eric Hehman and his colleagues discovered that looks matter in politics. Especially, that is, the looks of women candidates to conservative voters.
Of course, that conclusion should have surprised no one. After all, the conservatives' best and brightest have boasted that the "hot or not" factor matters most to them.
Writing in Slate, David Weigel summed up the Dartmouth research into Americans' reactions to images of dozens of Senate and gubernatorial candidates from 1998 to 2010. "In more conservative states, " Weigel reported, "the researchers found, female candidates with very feminine faces either won by greater margins or lost by smaller ones." Importantly:

And for conservatives, the paper's authors found, how feminine a female candidate appears correlates to how likely she is to win an election. Interestingly, this correlation doesn't hold for liberals.

Which is just what conservatives have been telling us for years about the likes of Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann, Kristi Noem and their ilk.
Take, for example, the case of ex-presidential candidate and soon to be former Minnesota Congresswoman Bachmann. In August 2010, the Republican Party of Minnesota's fifty-sixth Senate district displayed a web video proclaiming the GOP's women are "hotter" than their Democratic counterparts:

It leads with images of prominent Republicans such as Sarah Palin, Michelle Malkin, and Michele Bachmann; the soundtrack, naturally, is the Tom Jones chestnut, "She's a Lady."
Then, there's an abrupt switch to the other side of the aisle. The theme is subtly conveyed with the strains of the Baha Men hit "Who Let the Dogs Out?" Photos of Michelle Obama, Janet Reno, Rosie O'Donnell and Hillary Clinton flash on the screen.

Bachmann's admirers certainly did not point to her legislative accomplishments in Congress as the basis for presidential candidacy. (Then in her fourth term, Bachmann has had exactly zero of her bills signed into law.) When Tim Pawlenty supporter Vin Weber praised Bachmann's looks ("She's got hometown appeal, she's got ideological appeal, and, I hate to say it, but she's got a little sex appeal too."), the Daily Caller's Matt Lewis decried Weber's subsequent apology:

One of the least attractive elements of modern "conservatism" has been a capitulation to political correctness, and a willingness to play the martyr. But refusing to play that game shows confidence, which usually adds to one's sex appeal.
Bachmann is smart to own her sexiness, which in no way detracts from her intellect.

When Bachmann formally entered the GOP presidential race in June 2011, R. Emmett Tyrell of the American Spectator had only praise for "The Pulchritudinous Michele Bachmann":

So there are two. Two pulchritudinous ones, that is. Michele Bachmann and Sarah Palin are very beautiful, and the feminists tell us, so what?

After her first debate and interview performances, Tyrell fawned over Bachmann, calling her "charismatic and eloquent -- and astute." But days later, Michael Murphy, the former adviser to Mitt Romney, had a different term for her: unelectable. Calling her "catnip for the social-conservative wing of the GOP," Murphy described both the Bachmann boom and its inevitable bust:

Reporters have dropped their obsession with Sarah Palin and scampered in Bachmann's direction like dogs ditching chewed-up bones for a fresh slice of porterhouse. Liberals already nervous about the President's failures on the economy and his cynical wiggling on gay marriage now curse at a new villain on their television screens, secretly hoping Tina Fey does something and quick, because this new GOP bogeywoman seems far more polished, and therefore more worrisome, than Palin ever was. GOP professionals curse under their breath and reach for another Excedrin. Damn, they say, what is it about our party base and hopelessly unelectable women in snappy outfits?

Rush Limbaugh, who in 2010 was actually a judge at the Miss America Pageant, already had an answer for Murphy. "I love the women's movement--especially when walking behind it."
Limbaugh had plenty of company among the devotees of Sarah Palin, and they weren't shy about proclaiming the secret to her success. While many conservative women wanted to be her, conservative men wanted to do her.
Take, for example, Chris Wallace of Fox News and his exchange with Don Imus about Palin's upcoming appearance on his network in February 2010:

IMUS: When you interview her, will she be sitting on your lap? (LAUGHTER)
WALLACE: One can only hope. (LAUGHTER)

(As it turned out, Wallace was just echoing the company line. As Fox News' Roger Ailes later explained of his addition of Palin to his roster of right-wing regulars, "I hired Sarah Palin because she was hot and got ratings.")
Of course, none of Sarah Palin's would-be bath-water drinkers on the right could match the heavy breathing of National Review editor Rich Lowry. In November 2009, Lowry greeted the appearance of Palin's book by basking in her "roguish charm":

It's September 2008 all over again. All the same players are lining up to put a good hate on Sarah Palin. She's like an isotope designed to course throughout our politics and culture, lighting up press bias, self-congratulatory liberalism, Christianity-hating secularism, and intellectual condescension wherever they are found.
The contempt of her enemies only increases the ardor of her fans.

And none was more adoring, it turned out, than Rich Lowry.
As you may recall, in October 2008 Lowry reported on his near orgasmic bliss watching Sarah Palin's debate performance against Joe Biden. The impact of a vice presidential candidate winking at him left a breathless Lowry weak at the knees:

I'm sure I'm not the only male in America who, when Palin dropped her first wink, sat up a little straighter on the couch and said, "Hey, I think she just winked at me." And her smile. By the end, when she clearly knew she was doing well, it was so sparkling it was almost mesmerizing. It sent little starbursts through the screen and ricocheting around the living rooms of America.

As he suspected, Lowry wasn't alone. At the Weekly Standard, right-wing worker bee and future Washington Free Beacon editor Matthew Continetti had dedicated himself to protecting his queen. In his 2009 tome, The Persecution of Sarah Palin, Continetti defended the "young, attractive, and pro-life conservative mom who connected with ordinary Americans" from the left's campaign of "distortion, exaggeration, fabrication, vilification, ridicule, and abuse." Disgusted that Palin on the one hand is branded a "true Stepford candidate," Continetti argued on the other:

If you had gone into a chemical laboratory to concoct a politician whose background and manner would sound liberal alarms, you probably would have come up with someone like Sarah Palin.

Less than two years later, Continetti would transfer his affections to Bachmann, calling her "Queen of the Tea Party" and panting that she was "energetic, charismatic, intelligent, and attractive." Besides, he noted, "She's been featured in calendars of female conservative superstars."
But while the likes of former Massachusetts Lieutenant Governor Kerry Healy lamented the sexist media "hot or not" treatment of Nikki Haley, Kristi Noem, Betty Sutton and women politicians from both parties, right-wing radio made it clear that in the Age of Palin, such sexism was a feature, not a bug. Rush Limbaugh, who in 1993 famously called the young Chelsea Clinton a "dog," blasted the likes of NBC's Andrea Mitchell for simply observing Sarah Palin is "not deeply read. She hasn't thought through a lot of these policies, and you have to do that." As he groused at the time:

Okay, and I hear this from a lot of people on our side, too. Primarily women, primarily women. And I think many of them have been in Washington too long. "Lord knows she's attractive." That's the rub. That's the rub. Well, it's not the whole rub, but it's part of what grates on 'em. Trust me, my friends. Trust me. When your poster chick is Barbara Mikulski, you get the drift. When your poster chick is Nancy Pelosi. I don't care, pick one.

(To illustrate his point, Limbaugh features side-by-side photos of Sarah Palin and Democratic Rep. Barbara Mikulski.)
Palin's apparent sex appeal isn't limited to the men of the right. Ann Coulter, too, made clear that if loving Palin is wrong, she doesn't want to be Right:

The peculiarly venomous hatred of Palin is driven by women of the left and their whipped consorts. All that needs to happen is for a feminist to overhear two Nation readers saying, "I hate to admit it, but Palin is kind of hot" and ...
Democrats are a party of women, and nothing drives them off their gourds like a beautiful Christian conservative. (How much money has that other beautiful born-again, Carrie Prejean, been forced to spend on lawyers to respond to liberal hysteria?)

(Unsurprisingly, the public statements of Sarah Palin and Carrie Prejean are virtually indistinguishable.)
No doubt, the Republican Party's leaders past and present share Limbaugh and Coulter's adolescent assessment of the beauty of the right and the beasts of the left. After all, in 1998, Palin's running mate John McCain followed in Limbaugh's footsteps, joking, "Why is Chelsea Clinton so ugly? Because her father is Janet Reno." (McCain later apologized to Hillary and Bill Clinton, though not to Janet Reno). For his part, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney in May 2009 laughed off Time magazine's selection of Sarah Palin as one of America's most influential people:

"But was that the issue on the most beautiful people or the most influential people?"

Of course, Sarah Palin was never shy about using the conservative consensus about her looks to her advantage. To great applause at last year's NRA convention, Palin joked about her husband's shotgun and her "rack." (That prompted a cover story titled, "Sarah Palin's Rack" from the American Spectator.) When former MSNBC host Donny Deutsch declared that Palin was "a babe" and that the media was fascinated by her looks, he was sadly only repeating what conservatives have been saying for years.
Well, not all conservatives. As Romney's former adviser Murphy lamented after the 2008 election:

"If Sarah Palin looked like Golda Meir, would we even be talking about her today?"

As for Michele Bachmann, Michael Murphy summed up her presidential prospects two years ago. "I think Bachmann's chances of landing on Jupiter are higher than her chances of being nominated," he said." But over at conservative blog Powerline, Scott Johnson lamented what might have been and hoped for what might be still be to come for the Girl with Faraway Eyes:

I thought I had never seen anyone quite like her. She was smart. She was beautiful. She was conservative. She was ebullient. She had a great personal story. She was a proud mother of five kids and had served as a foster mother of twenty-three more. She was, in other words, someone liberals could really hate.

Or more accurately, someone only the hardest of hardline conservatives could love. And you don't need a PhD to figure that out.


Jon Perr
Jon Perr is a technology marketing consultant and product strategist who writes about American politics and public policy.

Follow Us

© 2004 - 
 Perrspectives. All Rights Reserved.
linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram