Sarah Palin, a Nation Object (ifie)s: The Role of Appearance Focus in the 2008 U.S. Presidential Election

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Sarah Palin, Objectification, Dehumanization, Election results

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In 2008, Republican John McCain and his running mate, Sarah Palin, lost the U.S. presidential election to Barack Obama and his vice presidential candidate, Joe Biden. During the campaign, Palin’s physical appearance, including her reported $150,000 makeover, received extensive media coverage. But, could the focus on her appearance have impacted the outcome of the election? Several lines of laboratory research suggest that this focus may have been detrimental to the Republican ticket because 1) it likely undermined perceptions of Palin’s competence, warmth and morality, and 2) it may have increased Palin’s focus on her own appearance, which, consistent with research on self-objectification, likely impaired the competency of her actual performance. Voting research supports the importance of candidates’ perceived competence and character. Thus, while acknowledging the diverse influences on an election’s outcome, a strong empirical case can be made that people objected to Sarah Palin (and therefore, John McCain), in part, because she was objectified. In contrast, there is no evidence to suggest that men suffer these same consequences when others, or they themselves, focus on their appearance. Therefore, it is not likely that the Democratic Obama-Biden ticket was hurt by these same factors.

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Sex Roles, v. 65, issue 3, p. 149-155