Press Treated Palin Less Fairly Than Biden
The 2008 presidential race was one of the most watched, discussed and analyzed campaigns in U.S. history, and when it came to the vice presidential candidates, voters heard a great deal about Sarah Palin.
Much more, in fact, than they heard about her opponent, Joe Biden.
News coverage of Palin, then the Republican governor of Alaska, not only significantly outweighed that received by Biden, then a U.S. senator from Delaware, was markedly different in substance and across media, according to a new study of media coverage of the vice presidential candidates.
Coverage of Palin was more likely to include references to her family, physical appearance and social issues, particularly in newspapers and by political blogs, while coverage of Biden dealt more with foreign policy and the economy.
"Each of these differences could have had important influences on public opinion formation and the public's voting decisions in this particular race," write Leticia Bode, a former graduate student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who is now an assistant professor at Georgetown University, and Valerie M. Hennings, an assistant professor at Iowa State University, in the study published in the journal Politics & Policy. She conducted the research while at UW-Madison.
"Without an examination of vice presidential contests, our understanding of the intersection of political communication and the experience of women as political candidates is incomplete," Bode and Hennings write. "If gender stereotypes in media coverage have the ability to negatively affect women candidates, this calls into question the American political system's ability to produce elected representatives in a fair and democratic manner."
Bode and Hennings tested three theories: The amount of coverage Palin received was greater than Biden; gender stereotypes would be reflected in the substance of coverage and emerge on such issues as family, electability, policy issues and physical appearance; and the amount and substance of coverage Palin and Biden received would differ across media.