A paper published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology by Nathan Heflick and Jamie Goldenberg of the University of South Florida discusses an experiment they conducted with 133 undergraduate students after Palin was picked for the McCain ticket. The students were asked to write a few feelings and thoughts about either Sarah Palin or Angelina Jolie. The students were asked to rate their assigned subjects on categories like competence, and they were asked who they were voting for in 2008.
As this summary by Tom Jacobs pointed out, “Those who wrote about Palin’s appearance were more positive in their assessments than those who assessed her qualities as a person, but they rated her far lower in terms of competence, intelligence and capability, and were far less likely to indicate they planned to vote for the McCain-Palin ticket.”
The more the respondents commented on Palin’s looks, the lower they rated her intellectual abilities. This outcome was present in Democrats, Republicans, and Independents. It is doubtful that her looks alone caused voters to downplay her ability, but it is possible that for some people, Palin was perceived as getting to where she was based on her looks. I tend to think that her poor performance in interviews was a bigger factor in voters doubting her intellect.
Here is an example of the way Palin was objectified by the right from August 29, 2008 Limbaugh radio show:
CALLER: — she’s attractive, not in a superficial Hollywood way, she’s just an attractive woman, she’s experienced, she’s tough, she’s comfortable in front of the audience, she was very easy to listen to. I am just like, I think McCain hit it out of the park with this, and I’m just so excited about it.
RUSH: A lot of people are, and I think it’s justified. I agree with you. It’s a great pick. She’s not shrill.
RUSH: She’s not going to remind anybody of their ex-wife, she’s going to remind men, “Gee, I wish she was single.”
You had conservative male talk show hosts drooling over how hot she was, and then these same people act surprised when she wasn’t taken seriously as a candidate. If a candidate is debuted to voters as a hot celebrity, then no one should be surprised when voters don’t take her seriously. Palin had plenty of chances herself to knock down the empty headed hottie image, but instead she played into it with luxury clothes, and dreadful forays into policy. The point being that if Sarah Palin became a sex object, it is because she and the Republican Party cultivated that image. This same image is something that she will struggle with in 2012 and beyond.