Study: Focus on Women Candidates' Looks Hurts at the Polls

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Guess what? Focusing on a female political candidate's appearance is not only sexist, it also hurts her chances of winning office. New studies released by the Name It, Change It project studied actual media quotes from the 2012 campaign season and also simulated sexist campaign coverage. Here's more about the findings from

“Women candidates pay a real price when they are covered in a way that focuses on their appearance,” said Celinda Lake of Lake Research Partners. “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.”

And while it may be obvious that talking about about a woman candidate in a way that's overtly sexual or critical would make her seem less qualified, the report goes on to say that even comments that seem positive or neutral might also have a negative impact at the polls. The appearance and campaign simulation studies were a joint project of the Women's Media Center and She Should Run. Julie Burton from the Women's Media Center says:

"...positive, negative, or neutral media coverage of a woman candidate’s appearance has a detrimental impact on the woman candidate’s race, whether the coverage is on the politics channel or style channel. When a woman candidate’s looks become part of the election story, she loses ground.”

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I'll admit: there's a natural instinct to notice and have an opinion about Sarah Palin's glasses or Hillary Clinton's ponytail. Is it harmless chatter or subconscious form of bad publicity? Tell us what you think in the comments.

News and Politics Editor Grace Hwang Lynch blogs at HapaMama and A Year (Almost) Without Shopping.