UPDATED: We’re In Trouble Now: Study Finds That Palin Needs to Be Ugly to Win

It’s over, folks. If this latest study is true, Palin will never win a national election.

Tom Jacobs reports:

In a Sept. 4, 2008 column, just after Sarah Palin accepted the Republican nomination for vice-president, Will Wilkinson wrote admiringly of her “sexual power,” adding: “I think she is a tremendously sexy woman. How this will affect the race, I have no idea, but it’s just got to.”

New research suggests the Cato Institute research fellow was right. The Alaska governor’s attractiveness may indeed have affected the race – by making voters less likely to support the GOP ticket.

In a paper just published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, psychologists Nathan Heflick and Jamie Goldenberg of the University of South Florida describe an experiment they conducted shortly after Wilkinson wrote those words. Building upon 1980s research suggesting attractive women in high-status jobs are perceived as less competent (a finding that has been challenged in recent years), they examined whether Palin’s sex appeal – the subject of endless media chatter in the weeks after she joined the ticket – hindered her ability to make the case she was up for the job.

They took a group of 133 undergraduates and assigned them to write a few lines about one of two celebrities: Palin or actress Angelina Jolie. Half of the participants in each category were asked to write “your thoughts and feelings about this person,” while the other half were asked to write “your thoughts and feelings about this person’s appearance.”

The participants were then asked to rate their subject (Palin or Jolie) in terms of various attributes, including competence. Finally, they were asked who they intended to vote for in the upcoming election.

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.

“It wasn’t her appearance per se” that soured people on Palin, Heflick said in an interview. “It was the effect her appearance had on their perception of her competence and humanity. Those variables made people less likely to vote for her.” (Not surprisingly, the participants’ feelings about Jolie did not influence their political opinions, whether they focused on her looks or personality.)

Heflick noted that all the self-proclaimed Democrats participating in the exercise indicated they were voting for Obama. So at least in this sample, it was Republicans and independents who were internally debating Palin’s suitability for the job. The study suggests that their confidence in her abilities may have decreased the more they focused on her looks – and thus, in feminist terms, objectified her.

Nothing we can do about this, folks. She’s a beautiful woman.

Her looks have always been an asset and a liability. Kaylene Johnson offered a funny anecdote about this in her Palin biography. During Palin’s ultimately unsuccessful run for lieutenant governor, her little campaign staff, which basically consisted of a handful of her friends, had to figure out some cheap way to get their message out there. Here’s one of the ideas they came up with:

[Palin’s friend, Judy] Patrick ran off business-card size copies of Sarah’s picture with a short campaign message on the back. “We were so low budget. Since she’s so attractive, I thought we should use our assets. Everyone wanted her picture.”

The Guv isn’t really comfortable with this approach, as noted in her interview with Vogue:

Developing a thick skin when it comes to comments about her looks has been part of the learning process. “I’ve been taken aback by the nasty criticism about my appearance,” she says. “I wish they’d stick with the issues instead of discussing my black go-go boots. A reporter once asked me about it during the campaign, and I assured him I was trying to be as frumpy as I could by wearing my hair on top of my head and these schoolmarm glasses, but he said, ‘No, that’s not what I mean.’ I guess I was naive, but when I hear people talk about it I just want to escort them back to the Neanderthal cave while we get down to business.”

Just to be clear — I think the University of South Florida study is complete junk. A sampling of university undergarduate drones is hardly a fair representation of the public.

UPDATE BY JR: Wow, 133 undergrads participated in this? Important stuff. People that age were definitely pulling for John McCain! They even compared her to Angelina Jolie. How were they able to pull 133 undergrads away from their dorm rooms and beer? Really important stuff here!

UPDATE BY VO: The Brilliant One offers his always-insightful analysis on this, giving C4P a shout-out in the process!

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