Watch CBSN Live

Candidates Fashion Plays Role In Campaign

This story was written by Victoria Toups, The Daily Reveille

Taxes, Social Security and the economy have all been integral issues in this years historic presidential election.

But another issue that might be on voters minds is the fashion of presidential and vice presidential candidates.

Although fashion isnt directly related to a candidates views and policies, their choices in fashion have been a vital part of their success in their campaign.

Jessica Pattison, Louisiana State historic costume graduate student, said although candidates should not be judged on the basis of their fashion choices, these choices do make statements about their personalities, which affects their campaigns.

As the first form of non-verbal communication with another person, dress is a compilation of not only how we clothe and what we clothe ourselves with, she said. It is a canvas for painting our image for others to perceive us.

Johanna Dunaway, LSU assistant professor of political communication, said fashion and appearance are definitely important to a candidates campaign.

Experimental studies have shown that more attractive candidates have an edge, she said.

Dunaway also said that whether consciously or not, voters may use candidates fashion and appearances as factors in deciding whom to vote for.

Stacia Haynie, LSU political science professor, agreed fashion is an important aspect of a campaign that must be carefully considered.

Fashion choices are one of a number of factors that campaign consultants consider, she said.Whether it is the color of the tie for the debates or the wardrobes for female candidates, in a visual age, image is considered important.

Rosanne Scholl, assistant professor of mass communication and political communication at LSU, said citizens often rely on things like appearance and fashion when deciding their feelings for a candidate.

When voters are not particularly motivated to make well thought out political decisions, or when they dont have enough information, they might rely on shortcuts for their feelings about a candidate, she said. Appearance is one shortcut people use, along with ... other external factors that arent directly related to performance.

A classic example that proves fashion and appearance to matter in campaigns is the 1960 presidential debate between Republican Richard Nixon and Democrat John F. Kennedy. This was the first televised debate, and many people didnt yet own televisions, so some watched it on television and others listened to it on the radio.

The people who listened on the radio, without any visual component, thought Nixon won the debate. But viewers who watched the debate on television believed Kennedy won, showing that in the visual world in which we live, appearance matters.

Research shows that people who match traditional standards of beauty enjoy many kinds of benefits. In the case of politicians ... voters might be looking for appearances that convey traits like dependability, approachability or wisdom, rather than straightforward beauty, Scholl said.

An integral part of this years presidential campaign has been the talk of Sarah Palin and her designer label wardrobe that the Republican National Convention spent a reported $150,000 on.

Scholl said that while all candidates are scrutinized for their appearance and dress, female candidates, like Palin, have a harder time appealing to the public through their appearance than males.

Politicians try to use fashion to convey traits associated with [their] qualifications, which sometimes present female politicians with a problem, she said. Women seeking public office are expected to look at once beautiful, which oftenmeans young and feminine, and also experienced and serious, which often means older or masculine.

Haynie agreed, saying Palin is the ideal candidate to fit the female celebrity that citizens expect.

Sarah Palin certainly conforms to the ideal image of the female celebrity, and there has been extraordinary attention directed toward her appearance, she said. Whether that attention has detracted from the campaigns political message will be analyzed for years.

Scholl said occasionally, a physical appearance or character issue will touch on a candidates good judgment, but most of the talk about trivial things, such as fashion, detracts from the real issues that should be focused on.

Some people argue that Sarah Palins $150,000 wardrobe and John Edwards $400 haircut illustrate that they would not make good policy judgments, she said.

Theres some merit in those arguments, but ... endless talk about who looks and sounds more like a regular Joe or a stylish fashion plate is much less valuable than ... making decisions about what policies would be best for the nation and which candidate could enact those policies, Scholl said.

Shondra Taylor, environmental engineering senior at LSU, said she thinks Barack Obama has been the best-dressed candidate in the presidential election.

I like Obama and the way he dresses, she said. Ive seen Sarah Palin once in a suit that was really cute ... but a lot of money has been spent on her wardrobe, so I would go with Obama as the best dressed.

Vincent Brown, psychology junior at LSU, agreed that Obama is the best dressed in his opinion.

It looks tailored, and it doesnt look like it costs so much, he said. It looks like something the common man could get if he needs to, and I identify with it a little bit better.

- - - -

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue