Sexist slurs hurt a female candidate’s campaign more than her policy stances, according to a study on voter attitudes. That’s bad news for the likes of Hillary Clinton, Sarah Palin, and Senator Kristen Gillibrand, who have been called “she-goat,” “mean girl,” and ” “the hottest member of the Senate,” respectively. A small survey, sponsored by the Women’s Media Center, the Women’s Campaign Forum Foundation, and Political Parity, as part of their “Name It, Change It” campaign to fight campaign sexism, also found that the typical advice to women to “ignore the attacks” was misguided. Instead of ignoring sexist characterizations, Ms. Candidate X most benefited by bashing down the remarks early on.The survey polled 800 likely voters and had them listen to two descriptions of hypothetical congressional candidates, one male and one female. Half of the likely voters heard descriptions that described her policy positions and also described the female candidate as a “stupid girl,” an “ice queen,” a “mean girl” and a “prostitute.” (All these slurs, unfortunately, were pulled from real life.) The other half just heard a description of her policy positions without the other labels. Shockingly, the survey found that the female candidate initially had 43 percent support, but it dropped to 33 percent when only her policies were criticized and to 21 percent when she was attacked with sexist language. Voters characterized the lady candidate as less trustworthy, less emphatic and less effective when they heard her characterized with sexist slurs.
The only good news is that when the hypothetical female directly responded to the remarks by calling them “inappropriate” or “sexist” and returned to a discussion of the policy initiatives, her support was able to bounce back. She was also helped if an outside group directly responded on her behalf.
I’m chagrined by, but not surprised by, the findings. Here’s hoping the “Name It, Change It” campaign responds early and often to lady candidates of all sides who are unjustly treated like crap in the upcoming elections!