Study: Campaign sexism hits its mark
For male candidates facing female opponents, sexism sells - unless women candidates are willing to fight back.
Those are the results of new research out Thursday showing that using sexist language in an attack on a female political candidate makes her support plummet, and makes voters label her as less trustworthy and less effective. The study, sponsored by Women's Media Center, the WCF Foundation and Political Parity, was conducted by Democratic pollster Celinda Lake.
For the study, 800 likely voters were read an exchange between two candidates, "Jane Smith" and "Dan Jones." Half of those called heard an attack that included sexist language - Smith was called an "ice queen" and a "mean girl," and later a "prostitute" - and the other half heard an attack based on policy issues.
Support for Smith dropped 21 percent among those who heard the sexist attacks, and just 10 percent among those who heard policy criticism.
"Sexism matters," said Siobhan Bennett, the president of the Women's Campaign Forum and a former Democratic congressional candidate. "It is a prism that massively influences how we see these candidates."
Still, the study found that the traditional advice given to women running for office - not to dignify sexist attacks by responding - is actually the wrong course of action. The female candidate's numbers went back up when voters heard the attacks called "inappropriate." The numbers went even higher if they were labeled "sexist, divisive rhetoric."
"So there's a way for her to respond to regain whatever electoral ground she lost to her opponent," Bennett said.
On Thursday, Women's Campaign Forum launched a campaign dubbed "Name It, Change It," aimed at ferreting out examples of sexism aimed at women candidates and responding to them. The effort will back women of both parties - and one of Bennett's prominent examples of candidates hurt by sexist language is Delaware Republican Senate nominee Christine O'Donnell.
In an appearance on Fox News Channel, Bennett called media coverage of O'Donnell "sexist and misogynistic. It's unfair, it's wrong, it must be stopped."
After the appearance, O'Donnell called Bennett thank her. "She said, 'You are the only person who has stood up and defended me since my race started, and I want to thank you for that,'" Bennett said of the call. "I said, 'I will fight to the death to protect you from sexist and misogynistic references, because when you are attacked, all women are attacked.'"
Published by Kate McCarthy on 09/27/2010