Fordham Weighs in on History-Making VP Pick


Alaska governor Sarah Palin is the first woman ever to be included on the Republican ticket. (Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel/MCT)

Published: October 2, 2008

On Sept. 3, Sarah Palin became the first woman ever to be included on the Republican ticket. According to the Los Angeles Times, ABC, CBS and NBC have run 77 stories about Palin since she clinched the nomination, “nearly double” the amount of coverage Obama received. So how will this increase in media attention affect the campaign? Members of the Fordham community weighed in on the implications of Palin’s nomination on the present race for the presidency and on the broader future of women in politics.

The first Gallup poll taken after the Republican National Convention revealed that McCain had a five-point lead over Obama (49 percent –44 percent). Paul Levinson, professor of communication and media studies at Fordham University, said that he attributes this increase “almost 100 percent” to Sarah Palin. Levinson said that he believes that the country is ready for change, and the fact that Palin is unknown and a woman drew people to her.

Amy Aronson, professor of journalism and media studies at Fordham College at Lincoln Center (FCLC), stated that the most important impact that the Palin nomination had on the race was the increase in media attention devoted to the McCain campaign. Prior to Palin’s nomination, Aronson said that the Obama campaign received more “high profile” coverage than the McCain campaign because of the nature of the two campaigns. McCain had been the presumptive nominee for weeks, while there was still a “heated battle” going on in the Democratic Party. But now, Aronson stated, Palin has become a newsworthy story.

“The media loves novelty,” she stated, “[Palin] is pugnacious and picks fights and therefore she makes [a newsworthy story].” According to the Dow Jones Insight 2008 Presidential Election Media Pulse, the number of times that Palin was mentioned in the mainstream media on the day of her nomination was 17 percent higher than the number of times Joe Biden was mentioned on the day of his nomination. In “social media,” which includes non-network stations, this difference totaled 65 percent.

Susan Beck, a professor of political science who also teaches in the Women’s Studies program, stated that she felt Palin received the same amount of attention that anyone would get if they were “picked out of the blue” like she was. Beck said she felt that Palin’s greatest effect on the McCain campaign was partisan, in that Palin “activated men and women who are connected to her because they like her politics.”

A Washington Post article published the day after McCain announced his vice presidential pick said that Palin “help[ed] McCain consolidate his conservative base.” The article stated that Palin’s stance on abortion, gun rights and gay marriage appealed to these voters and helped them overcome their “lukewarm” feelings toward McCain.

“She energizes the base [of the Republican party], but they are people who never would have voted for Obama in the first place,” Beck stated. Yet the importance of this energizing, according to Beck, is that these are also people who may not have voted at all until Palin was on the ticket.

As someone who was “thrilled” by McCain’s choice of Palin, Robert Isabella, FCLC ’09, agreed that the rise in enthusiasm among conservatives was Palin’s greatest impact upon the presidential race. He noted that prior to Palin’s nomination, there was a “great deal of unhappiness” within the conservative base over the fact that McCain was their party’s presumptive nominee because of McCain’s “moderate” stance. Now, Isabella stated, “the vast majority of conservatives have become extremely enthusiastic and seem like they’re going to turn out in large numbers [on election day], which could be one of a number of potential difference-making factors if the race continues to be as tight as it currently is.”

Bridget Cahalan, FCLC ’12, is one of these voters. Cahalan said that she was “very upset” when McCain became the presumptive nominee. Although she knew she would most likely vote Republican regardless of the candidate, she said that she didn’t want to vote for someone about whom she was unenthusiastic. Palin changed that for her. “I really like Palin,” she said. “I would like to be president some day,” Cahalan remarked, “so I like to see [a woman] in that position, and I like the fact that she has a family.”

Isabella said he thinks that Palin’s pro-life stance has drawn Evangelicals and Catholics to the Republican ticket. This statement is supported by an August New York Times article which stated that Palin’s nomination “instantly bolstered Mr. McCain’s wobbly conservative base, which rejoiced over the selection of an anti-abortion evangelical Christian.” Isabella stated that he believed that Palin’s appeal may even reach beyond true conservatives. “I even think she might be able to win over some independents and moderate Democrats who were supporters of Hillary Clinton and are angry now that Hillary is not on the ticket,” he said.

Eric Ariza, FCLC ’12, is a former Hillary supporter who is now planning to vote for McCain. Ariza stated that McCain “got him” by picking Palin. “When Obama snubbed Hillary, it was not only disrespectful to her, but also to the 18 million people who voted for her,” Ariza commented. Although he said that he does not agree with McCain’s policies, he also said that the combination of his admiration of the choice of Palin and the fact that he cannot relate to Obama has made up his mind for him. Ariza stated that he believed that many disaffected Hillary supporters will join him in voting Republican.

Beck expressed an opposing viewpoint. She said that she believes that very few Hillary supporters will vote Republican on election day because Palin’s policies are so different from Clinton’s. “It could be that some people are put off by the choice of [Palin] if they think that she was chosen just because she’s a woman,” Beck stated.

A self-declared feminist, Chris Geary, FCLC ’10, said, “I believe that the McCain campaign has become incredibly self-righteous since the addition of Gov. Palin.” Geary said he felt “insulted” by the assumption that the McCain ticket is now the choice for women because of the presence of Palin. “I whole-heartedly believe that the feminist choice is to reject Gov. Palin,” Geary stated.

Aronson, who also identified herself as a feminist, echoed Geary’s sentiments. She spoke of “opportunistic” accusations of sexism by the McCain campaign regarding Palin, and said that she took “particular offense” at such accusations. She cited the media’s preoccupation with some of Palin’s history in politics and stated, “When the media presses matters of fact, that is not sexism. That is an appropriate thing to do.”

As for the significance of Palin’s nomination for women, Beck said that she could not pass judgment just yet. “I can’t answer whether Palin ‘breaks the glass ceiling’ because by rule of thumb, [vice presidential] candidates don’t make that much difference. I can’t tell yet whether Palin departs from this norm.”

“At the end of the road, if she is perceived as a lightweight, [her nomination] probably won’t help women,” Beck continued. “If she is perceived as someone with gravitas, that may change.”