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The 'Palin Effect': Not All Young Republican Women Are Buying It

4 years ago
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Sarah Palin racked up a pretty impressive win-loss record in this year's Republican primaries, with her endorsement propelling women from the back of the pack to victory in at least three states -- Nevada, Delaware and South Carolina. For a Republican Party badly in need of diversity, the entry of more women into high-profile political races is a welcome development and the result of what some call the "Palin effect," a generation of women inspired by the former Alaska governor's rapid ascent on the national stage.

I spent part of last week at Samford University in Birmingham, Ala., a school affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention. Most of Samford's students are from religiously and politically conservative backgrounds, and so I assumed that the young women in particular would be big fans of Palin, taking their political cues from Palin's Twitter feed. To my surprise, this wasn't the case.

Sarah PalinWhen I asked the president of the Samford Young Republicans what she thought about the "mama grizzlies," the Palin-endorsed women candidates, she responded without equivocation: "I can't stand Sarah Palin." Leanna Cannafax, 21 and a senior, didn't always feel that way. She wanted a strong woman to challenge what she calls "the white male mentality" that prevails in the GOP. And she was excited at first when Palin was picked for the ticket in '08, but then came the letdown, "all the stuff about pigs and lipstick that I couldn't relate to."

Since then, her disappointment in Palin has deepened. "It's hard for me to relate to her even though she's Republican and conservative. As a young woman, I have to be open-minded to things I don't agree with, and I feel she doesn't even listen."

Cannafax's dad was in the military and she's lived in a lot of places other than Birmingham, including Iceland and several overseas posts, which may explain her open-minded attitudes in a school that is seen as the most Christian religious college in the country "without being weird," as one member of the community put it. (In other words, it's not Bob Jones University.) Samford is a highly respected liberal arts school, and its students are part of an evangelical generation that is in sympathy with many moderate to left-of-center positions on the environment and immigration reform, which Palin's reflexive conservatism doesn't address.

The good news is that Palin hasn't dampened Cannafax's interest in politics. "I was that little girl who when you asked what I wanted to be said congresswoman," she said. "Now I'm trying to watch my Facebook pictures."

I visited Samford as part of the Woodrow Wilson Fellows program that places people from different walks of life at various small liberal-arts campuses for the better part of a week. My encounters with students are anecdotal but suggest that Palin may not be the runaway favorite among young people -- and among the voters -- that her wall-to-wall media coverage implies. In a class of University Fellows, an academically gifted group, a young woman from Iowa, a dead ringer for Reese Witherspoon in "Legally Blonde," challenged me when I said that if Palin ran for president, she would likely win the Iowa caucuses, which kick off the primary season. No, this woman said, Iowans are not impressed with celebrity. Palin would have to prove herself like everybody else with repeated visits to the state, the kind of nose-to-the-grindstone campaigning that tweeting can't replace.

I don't pretend to have taken a scientific poll, but getting outside the Beltway and inside a small Southern campus made me wonder if Palin's biggest constituency is the media, not voters, and whether she makes a better story than she does role model.

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Why are successful women such harsh critics of one another?

September 28 2010 at 7:53 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Ms. Clift: This is old news. It has long been understood that the right's base (older, white, southern, religious) is shrinking. Youth tends to favor a positive outlook, not a constant barrage of "No". Youth tends to favor inclusion, not exclusion. What I really find funny is your attempt to portray more women active in the Republican party as "diversity". It may be one small step, but its hollow. Real diversity would be greater numbers of black, asian, gay, jewish, islamic, latin and other voters. And, we all know the GOP simply cannot find a way to include those citizens.

September 28 2010 at 2:47 PM Report abuse +5 rate up rate down Reply
3 replies to pgbrooke's comment

Palin comes off as phony on many levels and while her rhetoric may appeal to a more mature generation, it's simply not viable with today's youth. The tea party will create a divide in the republican party and I can just envision a repeat of the Ross Perot candidacy for President in the '90s.

September 28 2010 at 9:20 AM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply

Very good article, and right on point. No 21st Century thinking woman can identify with Ms. Palin. Senior woman cannot because they know the struggle women have faced to be recognized for their strength and intelligence. Younger women cannot even identify with Palin on any intellectual level, because Palin isn't knowledgeable or intellectual. She handles herself as a hustler. She uses religion as a tool to gain prominence in the media and therefore free advertisements for avenues to more money. The promotion of her teenage daughter's out-of-wedlock baby has shot her to "Dancing With The Stars"! And she goes on the show last night with her young daughter to presumeably intimidate the judges into favorable recognition for her daughter. It was a disgrace. All of Bristol and her mother's actions are a contradiction of Palin's supposed "religious" convictions. Palin is an embarrassment to most mainstream women, Republican or Democrat; young or old; religious, agnostic, or atheist. .

September 28 2010 at 8:59 AM Report abuse +10 rate up rate down Reply

This is hilarious - as if the media loves Palin! It's amazing that anyone likes Palin, because it takes an independent mind to look past the constant attempt to make her look as stupid and crazy as possible. Nevertheless, many people do. You may not agree with everything Palin says or does, but if you can't give her credit for her accomplishments and her ability to overcome an intense and constant negative attack from the media, then you are not a fair person.

September 27 2010 at 11:21 PM Report abuse -14 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to prosecutor24's comment
John W Johnson

The only thing hilarious is attempting to paint a pretty picture of Palin. American voters have not forgotten the deceit of "killing grandma" The biggest issue is not the personalities of the various candidates but their contemp in the population's educational level. They are using comon people to wage combat on the behalf of others that don't pay their fair share. Follow the money and you will see who benefits most from elected officials. It's not the common people!

September 27 2010 at 11:50 PM Report abuse +8 rate up rate down Reply

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