- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 4, 2008

American women found this year’s presidential campaign trail mighty rough on the female hopefuls.

Two-thirds of respondents to a survey released Wednesday said the news media coverage of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin was more negative than that of any other candidate running for office, while eight out of 10 said too much coverage focused on the Republican vice-presidential candidate’s wardrobe. Half said there was too little reporting of her serious policy positions.

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton also drew some sympathy from her bid to be the Democratic presidential nominee: Thirty-one percent said press coverage of Mrs. Clinton was too negative, while 44 percent criticized fascination with the New York senator’s clothing. Just under half of the respondents were satisfied that the media covered Mrs. Clinton’s positions on the issues.

They are also more comfortable with Mrs. Clinton as the future secretary of state, rather than as president. Fifty-eight percent preferred her to be the nation’s leading diplomat. Eighteen percent wanted her to be president, while 18 percent said she should not be in either role.

The survey of 600 women was conducted Nov. 21-24 by pollsters Kellyanne Conway and Celinda Lake for the Lifetime Network. It has a margin of error of four percentage points.

The findings also revealed that 65 percent of the respondents - “majorities in every demographic and political group” - also said that male and female candidates are held to different standards on the campaign trail. Twenty-nine percent thought the expectations were the same.

“Women gave male candidates the edge on every item tested,” the survey said.

Were the female candidates taken seriously by the voters? Eight out of 10 said it was easier for male candidates to communicate with the electorate, with just 5 percent citing an advantage for women.

The press certainly didn’t help overall either. Seventy-one percent said it was easier for a male candidate to garner decent coverage, while 9 percent said women got a fair shake. Another 70 percent said men were taken more seriously when it came to talking national security and terrorism compared with 4 percent who felt women could hold their own in the discussion.

Purse-related issues seemed to even the playing field somewhat. When addressing economic issues, 47 percent said it was easier for a male candidate, 14 percent said women had the advantage while 34 percent it made no difference.

When asked to consider their preferred role for Michelle Obama, “in light of her recent statements that she would make being a wife and mother her first priority,” 49 percent of the respondents said the incoming first lady should “get involved in a few issues,” while 38 percent said she should focus on being a wife and mother.

Clear partisan divide, though, was evident. More than half of Republican women - 53 percent - said the wife and mother role came first, compared with 41 percent of independent women and 25 percent of Democratic women.