Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska has become a media sensation almost overnight after the Republican candidate for president, Sen. John McCain, chose her as his running mate.
While the choice of a female vice-presidential candidate is unusual, a similar situation also happened in politics 24 years ago with the campaign of Democratic vice presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro.
Ferraro was chosen as presidential candidate Walter Mondales running mate when he ran against incumbent President Ronald Reagan. And at the University of Alabama, a class on gender and political communications will be exploring the similarities and differences between these two women and the treatment they each received from the media.
Janis Edwards, associate professor of communication studies in the College of Communication and Information Sciences, is leading the class in the research project titled The Palin Watch. She said after Palin was chosen as McCains running mate, it seemed like a great case study for students in her class, which is a mix of both graduate and undergraduate students.
Theres a lot of ways to look at media coverage of female candidates, Edwards said.
The students are finding three common themes in the relationship between the media and each candidate, Edwards said. The media tends to frame female candidates in terms of questioning their experience, the idea that the nomination was a political stunt and the idea that the nomination was a political gamble.
These are two different women, Edwards said. Despite the years separating the two candidates, the party differences and the cultural differences, these three themes are still recurring.
One similarity between the women is that both were not very well-known. There were other women that could have been chosen that were more well-known than both Ferraro and Palin, Edwards said.
The presidential candidates went outside the expected and well-known field. I couldnt think off the top of my head such an obscure vice presidential pick, Edwards said.
Mondale and Ferraro lost the election of 1984 with 13 electoral votes to Reagans 525, but Edwards said that Ferraros loss does not predict the outcome of the present election.
I wouldnt say that since Ferraro lost, it would not mean Palin would lose, although people say she is bringing down the ticket, Edwards said.
Edwards said that students involved in the research project have really gotten involved and provided a lot of helpful observations. Their findings will be released in a public report in December.
I think it has been a fun and exciting project. Our research will not be the last word, Edwards said.