How Sarah Palin can win voters

Thursday, October 09, 2008
By Sara Moore

Maybe you know who you’re voting for or maybe you don’t. Regardless, Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin is under a lot of scrutiny just because she’s a woman. Roxanne Rivera, author of the new book No Crying in Construction offers her advice on how Palin can survive this election and the male-dominated industry of politics. Of course, these are great tips for regular working girls too!

Gov. Sarah Palin

Don’t try to “think like a man”
“She governed Alaska femininely dressed and at times with her children at the office with her,” Rivera points out. “I think she learned how to use her femininity to her advantage then, and I hope that she won’t try to start thinking and acting like a man now in order to appeal to more voters. I think she is a wonderful complement to McCain. She doesn’t have to mimic him in order to earn credibility. People will appreciate it if she keeps the ‘realness’ that she has right now.”

Don’t squelch your feelings
Hillary Clinton came under a lot of fire during her campaign for tearing up while speaking at a campaign event. The largely negative feedback that Clinton received after that incident may tempt Palin to restrain her emotions while on the campaign trail. Rivera says it’s unnecessary and maybe even counterproductive to stoically hold back the occasional genuine tear. “As a woman, you do not need to be an emotionless robot to be successful in a male-dominated industry,” says Rivera. “You need only to express yourself openly and honestly. And while I would discourage frequent and certainly manipulative crying, if it is an appropriate emotion to have in a situation, Palin shouldn’t be afraid to show that emotion. She shouldn’t be afraid to express her feelings and opinions.”

Let your emotional intelligence show
Emotional intelligence is the ability to interpret your own feelings and emotions, gauge the feelings and emotions of others, and then use that information to guide yourself and others toward specific goals. In his book Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ, Daniel Goleman found that women tend to be more empathetic than men and are better at relating and interacting with others.

Gov. Sarah Palin

“As the only woman in the race, Palin is held to a higher standard than her male counterparts,” says Rivera. “She is more critically evaluated and is under more intense scrutiny. Fortunately, as a woman she is better able to sense emotions, adapt to situations, and nurture relationships with potential voters. If Palin really uses her emotional intelligence to show people that she understands and empathizes with them, she can be viewed as a caring woman who really understands what Americans are feeling and going through. And that skill can help her become a great politician regardless of whether she’s the country’s next VP.”

Acting like a lady will take you far
Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was known as a “lady” even while she met the challenges of her office head on. And being a lady didn’t mean backing down from a fight. (One Soviet newspaper of the time even called her “Iron Lady”). Believing in yourself and in your inner strengths will set you apart as a lady, asserts Rivera. A lady knows and keeps her boundaries, has infinite grace under pressure, and takes care of herself. A lady never ridicules or bashes other women or men. A lady makes people feel at ease in her presence.

Be empathetic with people
Empathetic people are those who can easily put themselves in someone else’s shoes. Women who succeed in male-dominated fields usually possess a high level of emotional intelligence because they have to spend a good portion of their time reading the emotions and reactions of the men they are working with. Regardless of gender, people want to be treated with dignity and respect, and that can happen only when you are able to genuinely relate to the people you’re trying to lead.

“I think a lot of people feel like Palin is like them,” says Rivera. “Maybe it’s her accent, maybe it’s because she proudly shared her love of the outdoors, or maybe it’s because her political career began in the PTA. She will go far if she is able to use these qualities about herself to relate to others and to explain to voters why putting her in executive office would benefit them. That’s how she can show voters that she isn’t just another politician seeking success in Washington—that she’s a person first and a politician second.”

Be flexible
Sure, people want a decisive leader, but as the current administration has shown us, decisiveness for its own sake can get us in a lot of trouble. Americans want decisive leaders in executive office, but they want reasonable ones as well. And when people think of a “reasonable” person, they picture someone who thinks rationally, has perspective, and is able to accept her fallibility. A reasonable person exercises sound judgment and has a healthy skepticism.

“Palin needs to demonstrate flexibility in her beliefs and show that she can accept the unpredictability of life,” says Rivera. “She has been criticized for taking hard-line positions on Iraq, on the energy crisis, and on women’s reproductive rights. I think she might benefit from showing more of a willingness to consider different solutions for America’s problems. Don’t get me wrong; I love her confidence. But she may come off as over-confident to some voters. She needs to show her ability to be flexible and make decisions based on what’s really going on rather than on a best-case-scenario situation.”

Balance your critical comments with positive ones
Palin’s speech at the Republican National Convention was well received by many members of the Republican Party. But those outside the party and in the media (and probably some more moderate GOPers) felt that the speech was overly negative, particularly when Palin denigrated Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama’s work as a community organizer. “Palin comes off as a fiery individual, who knows how to deliver a good one-liner,” says Rivera. “But for women, there is a thin line between being fiery and being stereotyped as the B-word. She needs to find a better balance between her critical comments and her positive ones. For many people, mean-spiritedness is off-putting, and I think Palin sometimes treads perilously close to that line.”

Don’t be afraid to say no
At a time when Americans are looking for leaders who have all the answers, it can be dangerous to decline to answer a question. Palin has been criticized for avoiding the media and rarely taking questions from the press corps that is following her and McCain on the campaign trail. Should she take more questions from the media? Not necessarily, says Rivera. “Women tend to answer every question asked of them because they do not want to be perceived as incompetent or uncooperative,” she explains. “When Palin is faced with questions that are being asked simply to try and trip her up, I think she should think before she speaks and weigh the pros and cons of answering. She’ll have to set specific boundaries for herself in this area. Sometimes those types of questions will warrant an answer, and sometimes silence will speak louder than words.”

You can overcome the “just a pretty face” barrier
Palin’s attractiveness has spurred the creation of many t-shirts and slogans. While some are clever, many are sexist in that they insinuate that Palin is successful simply because of her looks and not her brains.

“It’s a common stereotype that attractive women do not have to work as hard as other women and that things come easier to them,” says Rivera. “It is especially hard for a woman in any male-dominated field to be taken seriously and to establish credibility. Being a former beauty queen may help to stereotype Palin even more. Another challenge for attractive women is that when someone is trying to portray them as ‘just a pretty face’ they’ll sometimes engage in using intimidation to confirm their preconceived beliefs. Take, for example, some of the ‘trap door’ questions—like the more difficult foreign policy questions—that have been thrown at Palin in her more hard-hitting interviews. Building credibility is a process, and if she acts imprudently in these situations, it becomes even easier for people to question her credibility. I believe that Palin should carefully consider how she responds in these situations, and she should distance herself from the stories regarding her physical attributes. She will be wise to focus on the issues rather than fuel any of the noise that distracts people from thinking about her as anything other than an accomplished politician.”

Reach out to other women
Many women are still trying to decide who they should vote for on November 4th, but some have already made their decision. Palin should embrace the female supporters that she has already won over in order to garner more support from other women voters. Women are great sounding boards and the more Palin can interact with and learn from them the better.

“Ever heard the idea that people vote for the candidate they would enjoy having a beer with?” asks Rivera. “Well, I think that idea holds true with female voters. Women will find Palin more appealing if they feel like she would make a good friend for them. Luckily, women find the same characteristics appealing that men do—a decisive nature and honesty, for example. I think it is easy for many women to see themselves in Palin. After all, she is a working woman with a family like so many millions of other American women. She should embrace these similarities.”

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