The Mythical Palin Effect–Women Focus on the Message Rather Than the Messenger

Much has already been written about the Palin Effect and what impact nominating Sarah Palin has had on the McCain campaign. At first, many commentators thought that her nomination would convince former Hillary Clinton supporters to switch parties and vote Republican. It’s a basic testing of Robert Cialdini’s theory on likeability in a negotiation-we are more likely to be persuaded by others when we like them or when we are just like them. But, while Palin’s nomination is clearly a historic first, that, in and of itself, has actually not resulted in women changing their mind on the issues.

For a great article on this (bias revelation-I dined with the reporter while she was drafting it) see this article from Bloomberg News. A very funny take on the Palin Effect was on the Colbert Report last week, and on the Daily Show as well when Kristen Schaal takes over hosting duties from Jon Stewart and then tests out her skills interviewing Gideon Rose, the managing editor of Foreign Affairs.

So, as the election campaign proceeds, I’ll be curious to see how much focus we have on the message and how much focus we have on the messenger. Perhaps we have seen the limit of the likeability factor?

Cross posted at Indisputably.

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Matthew Barney

    I doubt that Dr. Cialdini would disagree with you that many factors affect persuasion and influence. Likeability is a factor, but certainly not the only one. He advocates the use of 6 principles of influence and amplifiers, based on 50+ years of research. Most of his emphasis isn’t on the merits of the case – or an orator/politician’s ability to make a logical argument – but rather on the small situational changes that make a big difference in persuasion.

  2. Richard M. Esenberg

    As reflected in my column in this morning’s Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, my take on the Palin effect differs from Colbert’s. Having completed my own bias revelation, I am not sure that the Palin nomination – if it has any effect – is primarily about gender, although gender is bound up with it.

    Nor is it about making a logical argument – at least not in the sustained way that we think of it. Our political campaigns don’t emphasize careful analysis of issues. If you carefully parse what Obama or McCain say about the financial crisis, for example, there is not much there and what can be found is pretty weak stuff.

    But maybe we should expect that because most of a political campaign is devoted to conveying attitudes and signalling broad political perspectives. Obama is the archetype of an urban liberal and crusading young politician. Palin is an archetype of the Sam’s Club Republican. That’s an image but it also suggests a set of attitudes toward the issues – socially and fiscally conservative, but more populist on other economic issues. If she has an effect on this election, it will be because she reinforces McCain’s image as that type of candidate, not because of gender.

    Likeability matters. It did wonders for Reagan and Clinton, but then again Richard Nixon was elected President twice (actually three times if you believe some people). I tend to think that the larger impact of her personality is the extent to which it reinforces her desired political image just as Obama’s reinforces his.

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