Buono’s ‘Do Doesn’t Matter

The Daily Beast gave Barbara Buono, the Democratic nominee for governor of New Jersey, some media attention today with a full profile on her challenging race against Governor Chris Christie. While many aspects of her campaign were rightfully discussed, the piece unnecessarily commented on her appearance as well.

Author Simon van Zuylen-Wood discussed Buono’s seven years in the state Assembly and 11 years in the state Senate, two of them as majority leader. He wrote that she is a forceful speaker and does well on camera and discussed the difficulties of running a campaign against a very popular governor. But, in the midst of an anecdote about a visit to a homeless encampment, he included an unnecessary comment about Buono’s appearance, mentioning that she “looks a decade younger than she is, her light copper hair cut stylishly below the jaw line.”

Media commentary about a candidate’s appearance is normally reserved for women who run for office. In the case of the New Jersey gubernatorial race, it has been suggested that Chris Christie is getting some media commentary about his appearance but probably not to level of detail about the cut and color of his hair. Regardless of whether Buono and Christie are getting appearance coverage in completely equal amounts, it should be obvious that such commentary should be irrelevant in election coverage.

One thing we do know is that our research shows that seemingly positive media commentary about a female candidate’s appearance—especially about her hair and using a phrase like “looks even younger than her age,”—decreases voter support for her. Once even mildly sexist comments are made, voters see her less favorably and as less trustworthy and effective. The Daily Beast should have stuck to coverage of her qualifications and left comments about her appearance on the sidelines.


Published by Annika Christensen on 09/13/2013

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