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Blockbuster: Female candidates hurt from even positive mentions about appearance. The Kamala Harris factor

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In the wake of President Barack Obama apologizing to California Attorney General Kamala Harris for complimenting her on her good looks comes this blockbuster finding from a new study: when it comes to a female candidate, any media coverage about her appearance--even positive--hurts her with voters.

That's a key conclusion of the poll for the Women's Media Center and She Should Run, to be released Monday in Chicago at the Council on Foundations annual conference at the Hilton Chicago, 720 S. Michigan.

The survey's release is timely because Obama's remark about Harris is the latest in the long-running struggle of women seeking public office, not to have their looks influence how people assess their credibility.

Obama apologized Friday for saying, during a Thursday fund-raiser for the Democratic National Committee near San Francisco that Harris is "brilliant," "dedicated" and "tough." What Obama said after that is what got him in trouble: "She also happens to be, by far, the best-looking attorney general."

The "Name It. Change It" survey, conducted by Celinda Lake of Lake Research and Robert Carpenter of Chesapeake Beach Consulting found that when any media coverage focuses on a female contender's appearance--positive, negative, or neutral--"it made voters less likely to vote for her."

Lake said, "Women candidates pay a real price when they are covered in a way that focuses on their appearance.
"Even what we thought was benign coverage about how a woman dresses has a negative impact on her vote and whether voters perceive her as in touch, likeable, confident, effective, and qualified. And, in close races, sexist coverage on top of the attacks that every candidate faces can make the difference between winning and losing."

Harris through her spokesman shrugged off the Obama comment, an option an incumbent and Obama loyalist--not in an election battle--can easily take.

"When a woman candidate's looks become part of the election story, she loses ground," said Julie Burton, President of the Women's Media Center.

The on-line survey was conducted March 3-7 of 1,500 likely voters, with an oversample of women between the ages of 18-35.

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Lynn Sweet

Lynn Sweet is a columnist and the Washington Bureau Chief for the Chicago Sun-Times.

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This page contains a single entry by Lynn Sweet published on April 7, 2013 11:41 PM.

Former A.G Eric Holder public affairs chief Tracy Schmaler joins ASGK Public Strategies was the previous entry in this blog.

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