[T]he Name It, Change It campaign released a survey conducted earlier this year on exactly this subject. In the survey, Jane Smith and Dan Jones are pitted against each other in a race for Congress. Both have similar backgrounds, and after reading their bios the survey respondents prefer Jane slightly, 49-48.
Then they read a second story. In one version of the story, there’s no physical description of either candidate, and Jane’s lead stays pretty much the same. In a second version, there’s a neutral description of Jane’s appearance. Suddenly she’s 5 points behind Dan. In a third version, there’s a positive description of her appearance. Now she’s 13 points behind Dan. A fourth version that contains a negative description has about the same effect.
In other words, any description hurts Jane. And any non-neutral description, even a positive one, just kills her.
Annie-Rose Strasser finds a silver lining:
[T]he real point of the survey — and the most salient fact that came from it — is that pushing back on the commodification of a female candidate’s beauty can be just as impactful as the criticism itself. Some respondents heard a defense from Jane Smith, saying, “My appearance is not news and does not deserve to be covered. Rarely do they cover men in this fashion and by doing so they depict women as less serious and having less to offer voters.” Others heard a similar defense from Name It, Change It. In both cases, when they heard that, their votes flipped back.