On Palin, sexism's in the eye of the beholder

A well-timed Pew survey shows the reversal in attitudes brought about by Sarah Palin's presence on the Republican ticket.

Published September 15, 2008 4:57PM (EDT)

Seems like someone at the Pew Research Center might have a lucrative career as a psychic ahead of them. Either that or Pew just has uncommonly great timing, because this summer -- before Sarah Palin was chosen as John McCain's running mate -- it polled Americans to find out how people feel about candidates with young children, and paid close attention to how those attitudes change depending on the gender of the candidate.

The results themselves aren't all that surprising, but they do illustrate just how flexible attitudes can be depending on political situations. In recent weeks, Republicans have leapt to Palin's defense, while some liberals have asked whether she'll be able to handle the demands of both the vice presidency and her five children. But as Pew showed with its generic survey, that's not how things might normally work.

"The findings suggest women with young children pay a 'mommy penalty' among Republicans if they run for Congress. Among Democrats, by contrast, it's the fathers of small children who are at a disadvantage and it's the mothers who are more likely to be strongly supported," Pew's Rich Morin and Paul Taylor write. "Barely one-in-five (21%) Republicans said they were very likely to support a candidate for U.S. Congress who was the mother of school-aged children, while 31% said they would support a father who had the identical personal and career profile."

By Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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