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Beth Peterson

The wives of presidential candidates are making headlines.  Journalists are covering everything from their fashion to their fundraising, and it seems the public just can’t get enough.  Throughout the election, Romney has turned to his wife for support and according to this article has referred to her as his expert on women and the economy. Similarly, the Washington Post recently covered a lecture on Michelle Obama. This article outline a professor’s view that suggested Michelle Obama has more political influence than we think.  So I must wonder, what makes a spouse popular? Are these spousal appearances strategic? And if so, what do they achieve?

Three authors, VanHorne and Susan MacManus and Andrew Quecan, agree that the candidates spouse act as candidate surrogates. According to Abigaile Marguerite VanHorne, “candidate wives have taken on an increasingly important and prominent role in campaigning”.  Recently speech making and interviews have increased among candidate spouses. For instance Michelle Obama will be giving a speech at NC A&T, located in a swing state, and recently appeared on NPR. As well, Anna Romney frequently takes the stage and shares a bit of the microphone with her husband.  Each wife acts as an extension of the candidate for the public and speaks to her husband’s character.

And these extensions are important, Burrell, Elder and Frederick say. I was surprised to find that Americans tend to embrace more traditional spouses who have a “hands-off approach to policy” and “no political ambitions of their own” (173). This surprised me because of Michelle Obama’s involvement in government and her favorability among voters. However, the authors find positive feelings toward a candidate’s spouses favorably influence the candidate’s rankings. To me, this seems pretty expect.

Susan MacManus and Andrew Quecan agreed that the candidate wives are used to compliment the candidates. In the article, the authors examine the spousal appearances during the 2004 election. They find these appearances are indeed strategic. Spouses are more likely to visit battleground states and will make more appearances closer to the Election Day. A campaign’s reliance on a candidate’s wife is “based on their popularity and the breath of their appeal across the partisan and gender divide” (10).

All in all, I found that traditional spouses are more popular to the electorate and these spouses do act as surrogates during campaigns. Their appearances are strategically placed along the campaign trail to produce a favorable response among voters. This means we will be seeing much more of Michelle and Anna by their husbands sides and speaking alone in the upcoming months.

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