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Opinion | Kyrsten Sinema and the Politics of a Sleeveless Silhouette – The New York Times

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Last week, I argued that it was useful to think about the clothes Kyrsten Sinema wears, because her presentation is part of her political power. I also invited readers to think along with me. Many of you wrote me to say that the very idea of talking about what a woman is wearing gives you, for lack of a better term, the heebie-jeebies. Some of you worry that this line of inquiry devalues Sinema’s credentials and office; others worry that talking about presentation is tacitly sexist because it opens the door to critiquing women for something that their male counterparts can take for granted.

Some took me to task for lowering myself — and the discourse — to something as trivial as performance, style and fashion. I addressed that criticism, which I find deeply unserious, in my last newsletter. Presentation matters to how we live. Serious people should be able to talk about that.

That’s why I talked with some serious people about Sinema’s clothes.

This week I turned to Maxine Craig, a friend of mine and a sociologist at the University of California, Davis. For decades, Maxine has written about the cultural meaning of seemingly innocuous notions like why men do not like to dance socially or how women navigate gender at the gym. One of the unifying interests of Maxine’s research is in the coded language of presentation, especially the ways we talk about contested notions about race, gender, sexual identity and class. I have also written about how racial codes are communicated through beauty and beauty rituals. Maxine and I are not alone in our interest: This is an area that draws attention from academics across many disciplines.

As I argued last week, politicians spend money and effort to construct their public image, making choices about everything from their clothing to their website photos. The audience for this performance — both the media and the voters — takes all of that in when we judge politicians’ authenticity, relatability and capability. The way that we interpret and respond to these framing decisions is sometimes surprising.

For instance, one study started with the observation that many politicians choose not to wear eyeglasses because they believe that glasses project infirmity and old age. But the researchers came to the conclusion that politicians might be making a mistake; they found that glasses seemed to actually help politicians because wearing them also connotes intelligence. And the audience mattered: Wearing glasses was a net positive for Western audiences, but it was a net negative for Indian ones. This study, though, did not address the ways that this could be affected by the gender of the politician.

Because of our shared interest, Maxine and I started with an obvious question. Would we have the heebie-jeebies talking about Sinema’s odd style choices if she were not a white, able-bodied woman?

While we talked, Maxine and I did a visual tour of the most searched images of Sinema online. If you haven’t seen some of those style choices, this article features some highlights. To me, her style is notable for its bright colors, tight fit and playfulness. Independently, these are all things that politicians generally eschew. So why does Sinema play against these expectations? The easiest answer is because she can. The harder answer is that she can because of who she is, which is to say that race absolutely matters to her style choices.

Maxine pointed out that Sinema’s physique is one that would “attract different kinds of attention” were it that of a Black woman. As a comparison, she brought up the way voters eviscerated Michelle Obama — who is a political figure despite not being an elected official — for wearing sleeveless dresses. On Obama, fitted sheaths without sleeves were a code for unruly behavior and thus disrespect for the president’s office. But unruliness is a reputation that Sinema can afford to cultivate. It was seen, especially early in her career, as positive: a mark of her independence, not a sign of her lack of respect. Sinema also gets a bonus: that sleeveless silhouette draws attention to her level of fitness. Love or hate her style, a lot of the commentary suggests, you have to respect Sinema’s fit physique.

Fitness implies health, and our culture elevates healthiness and fitness to the level of moral virtue — which means that being able to code as fit or healthy is an asset to politicians. This is why we know so much about Sinema’s fitness routine. It is also why we knew about Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s push-ups and why those infamous photos of Paul Ryan working out exist.

Before Sinema became a wayward cog in the Democratic legislative machine, a lot of her press included fawning reports on her morning runs — as early as 3 a.m.! — and Spin classes and Ironman competitions. Like Ryan and other younger national elected officials, Sinema used her fitness routine to communicate strength and moral fortitude. Returning to the comparison to Obama: Sinema can be fit and morally upright, whereas Obama’s similar physique was not interpreted in the same way.

Sinema’s presentation as a young, fit politician bucks some gender conventions. Strength is often associated with men, and physically strong women are often demonized. But in another way, Maxine said, Sinema’s performance of physical fitness is conformist. Sinema is one of the few out bisexual members of Congress, and her style plays into the ideas that sexual minorities are inherently nonconformist.

Bisexuality is a marginalized identity, but the progressiveness associated with it, in other contexts, is a political asset. “This sort of presenting herself as someone who crosses and violates norms gives her kind of radical credentials while she undermines progressive aims,” Maxine told me. “The coolness that comes with being bisexual and the coolness with embracing sexuality and performing it with her clothes can create this perception that she’s down with the people. Being progressive on this one dimension of sexuality provides cover for her general political stance.”

Maxine said that Sinema’s style choices can be read as a type of pinkwashing: leveraging positive associations with gay culture and identity to distract from one’s negative actions. Sinema’s performance highlights that she is a minority in Congress. That minority status, in turn, gives her some progressive street cred that she then does not have to earn through actual progressive policymaking.

Playing with this conforming nonconformist look served Sinema very well when she played nicely with her fellow Democrats; that nonconformity was coded by media as moral fitness. As her politics have become more at odds with national Democratic priorities, her style choices have gotten a more mixed reception from Democrats. For her part, Sinema seems to know it. After all, she courts the most powerful capital a politician can have, other than corporate donations: attention.

Tressie McMillan Cottom (@tressiemcphd) is an associate professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Information and Library Science, the author of “Thick: And Other Essays” and a 2020 MacArthur fellow.

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Study: Politics Outweighed COVID Severity in Reopening Decisions – Inside Higher Ed

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The political leaning of the county in which a college or university is located is the factor most closely associated with whether it offered in-person or remote instruction in fall 2020, research released Tuesday shows. The article, published in Springer’s Research in Higher Education, finds that the severity of the pandemic near a college and sociopolitical factors in its state were also associated with institutional decisions on how to offer instruction.

State political factors were a stronger factor for four-year public institutions than for four-year private or community colleges, while county political preferences had a stronger effect on four-year private and two-year public institutions.

“Given that in-person instruction was associated with increased COVID-19 incidence in the local area,” the authors write, “polarization, political identification, and institutions feeling compelled to operate as politicized entities (to stay close to the ‘in-group’) likely made the severity of the pandemic worse. These outcomes are aligned with the general findings [of previous research] that institutions seemed to give more weight to sociopolitical features over pandemic severity when choosing in-person instruction for Fall 2020.”

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Why American Politics Is So Stuck — and What New Research Shows About How to Fix It – POLITICO Magazine

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Why does American politics feel so stuck these days, with bipartisan bills vanishingly rare and solutions seemingly taking a back seat to constant attacks?

Our newly published research suggests an answer — and maybe a way to get un-stuck.

Most policies are rife with trade-offs. They have an intended outcome and some regrettable side-effects. Our recent studies suggest that political polarization in the United States runs so deep that it leads partisans to see the other side’s intended outcome as a ruse and the side effects as the real intention. In other words, Democrats and Republicans not only disagree about policy matters; they believe the other party’s agenda is intentionally designed to do harm.

We call this tendency the partisan trade-off bias, and it applies to both parties. To a Democrat, the purpose of an environmental policy that reduces carbon emissions, for example, is to preserve the environment, and a corresponding loss of coal mining jobs is an unfortunate side effect. But a Republican, our research finds, might look at that same policy and see a plot to eradicate jobs in the fossil fuels industry. Meanwhile, a Democrat might presume a Republican push to lower corporate tax rates is more about helping the wealthy and hurting the poor than fueling economic growth.

Of course, skepticism about motives is sometimes warranted. But, oftentimes, it is misguided, and the deeper it runs, the harder it is to get anything through the policymaking process. Unless politicians find a way to lessen the effects of the partisan trade-off bias, we’re likely to keep seeing stalemates on important policy issues.

We documented the partisan trade-off bias across five studies using online samples of a total of 1,236 participants, a mix of Republicans and Democrats. As an example, in one of our studies participants were randomly assigned to view a set of policy trade-offs, some proposed by Republicans and some proposed by Democrats. The policies dealt with taxes, environmental regulation, gun control and voting rights. Participants then rated how intentional they perceived the negative side effects of each policy to be. The more participants identified with the Republican Party, the more intentional they perceived the side effects of the Democratic-proposed policies to be, and the more participants identified with the Democratic Party, the more intentional they perceived the side effects of Republican-proposed policies to be.

In a nutshell, our studies showed that the negative side effects associated with different policy trade-offs are not interpreted by opponents as side effects at all, but as intended goals of the policy.

To date, the political science literature has shown that political polarization leads partisans not only to dislike each other, but to see the other side increasingly as a threat to the country. Our identification of the partisan trade-off bias reveals a psychological tendency that might help to explain this perception of threat. After all, how can you get along with someone who you perceive as intentionally trying to do harm?

The good news is that by identifying the partisan trade-off bias, our research points a path forward: Policymakers who pay more attention to this bias might be better equipped to achieve compromise. This means that rather than focusing only on the main goal of a policy, they need to communicate clearly to the public what is intentional and what is a regrettable side-effect of that goal.

Fortunately, our studies also suggest this might be achievable. The partisan trade-off bias happens not because people don’t understand a given policy, but because they don’t trust the policymakers who are pushing that policy. We found that the level of trust a person feels toward a policymaker proposing a policy is a crucial driver of the partisan trade-off bias. And when we were able to increase people’s trust in the policymaker in our studies, we saw the partisan tradeoff bias decrease substantially.

Existing research suggests there are many ways politicians can earn others’ trust, but one of the most powerful is also the simplest: making sure people feel their voices are heard and listened to before a policy is announced, including both those inclined to like and dislike a policy. When we told participants in our studies that a policymaker spoke with stakeholders from all sides of the political spectrum before rolling out a proposal, the partisan tradeoff bias subsided.

Practically speaking, these findings suggest that announcing a big policy goal, and then doing press tours and campaigns to tout its benefits, likely does little to build trust. What happens before the policy is announced is crucial to building broad support for the policy. Politicians need to make it clear that they are speaking with and listening to those likely to be affected by a policy’s side effects. In the context of climate policy, a politician might visit coal miners in West Virginia or oil and gas workers in Texas while in the process of formulating a plan to reduce emissions, for example. The more widely the politician can advertise these efforts — across multiple types of media and across the ideological spectrum — the better.

Giving people a voice in the process does not mean they will change their minds about the value of the policy. But it does increase the chances that they will see the policy as a sincere attempt to solve problems rather than a form of hidden malice. That, in turn, can help lower the temperature and de-escalate the cycle of polarization. The same lesson holds for those of us who are not policymakers but ordinary citizens who want to have better conversations about politics. If you think you know what the other side’s real intentions are, think again. What you see as malice might be an unintended side effect. And if you want someone to give you the benefit of the doubt, put in the work of making them feel heard before you make yourself heard.

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A new reason to move: politics – Yahoo Canada Finance

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Blue states will get bluer, and red redder, in coming years, as more Americans factor political issues into their relocation decisions and head for places with like-minded tribes.

That’s the forecast from real-estate brokerage Redfin, which included “more migration for political reasons” in its outlook for the housing market in 2022. The deepening political polarization of the country includes new city- and statewide laws likely to attract adherents and repel detractors, driving political issues deeper into community life. Texas this year passed the nation’s strictest anti-abortion law, for instance. A Mississippi anti-abortion law could lead the Supreme Court to overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that made abortion legal everywhere. If the Supreme Court overturns Roe, states will once again be free to set their own abortion statutes, creating a drastic dividing line between permissive and restrictive states.

Another Supreme Court case, involving gun rights, could make it easier to carry concealed weapons in New York and 7 other states, eroding gun-control efforts propagated largely by Democratic governors and mayors. On the other hand, marijuana is now legal in 19 mostly blue and purple states. Cities such as Philadelphia, San Francisco and New York are experimenting with police reform meant to cut down on lower-level arrests. Public-school curricula is a new flash point between parents who want racial and social justice taught in schools, and traditionalists who feel threatened by “wokeness.”

A U.S. Supreme Court police officer walks past its building as rulings are expected in Washington, U.S. November 22, 2021. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

A U.S. Supreme Court police officer walks past its building as rulings are expected in Washington, U.S. November 22, 2021. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

The Covid pandemic led to sharp disparities in masking rules, school opening policies and business restrictions among states and cities. That’s on top of longstanding differences in regulation and taxation between traditionally Democratic and Republican states. While there’s nothing new about regional differences in governing styles, policy polarization is making it easier for Americans to live in areas they find ideologically compatible. It’s also getting harder for liberals to find a comfortable enclave in conservative states, and vice versa.

[Click here to get Rick Newman’s stories by email.]

Moving patterns reflect politics

Americans seem increasingly likely to sort themselves into ideological groups by geography. “We know people are leaving blue counties and moving to red counties,” says Daryl Fairweather, chief economist at Redfin. “I think this will start to happen at the state level and at the neighborhood level. After next year’s midterm elections, we’ll be able to see if neighborhoods become more polarized.”

Up till now, the migration from blue states to red states has largely been driven by affordability. Blue states along the coasts typically have higher living costs and taxation levels than, say southern red states such as Texas and Florida. More and more, however, moving patterns reflect overt political choices.

An October Redfin survey of people who recently moved, for instance, found that 40% said they would prefer or insist on living in a place where abortion is fully legal. The portion taking the opposite view—saying they would prefer or refuse to live in an area where abortion is fully legal—was 32%. It’s not unusual for survey respondents to express strong opinions on abortion, but it may be new for people to factor such views into moving decisions. If the Supreme Court overturns Roe and more states ban or severely restrict abortion, it could become a bigger factor in relocation.

HOUSTON, TEXAS - AUGUST 12: A newly sold home is shown on August 12, 2021 in Houston, Texas. Home prices have climbed during the pandemic as low interest rates and working from home has become more abundant. Home prices around the country continue to surge in the second quarter as strong demand continues to overwhelm the supply of homes for sale. Nationwide, the median single-family existing-home sales price increased by 22.9% in the second quarter. (Photo by Brandon Bell/Getty Images)HOUSTON, TEXAS - AUGUST 12: A newly sold home is shown on August 12, 2021 in Houston, Texas. Home prices have climbed during the pandemic as low interest rates and working from home has become more abundant. Home prices around the country continue to surge in the second quarter as strong demand continues to overwhelm the supply of homes for sale. Nationwide, the median single-family existing-home sales price increased by 22.9% in the second quarter. (Photo by Brandon Bell/Getty Images)

A newly sold home is shown on August 12, 2021 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Brandon Bell/Getty Images)

The Redfin survey of movers also gauged attitudes toward other touchy political topics. Larger percentages favored living in areas with liberal policies such as strong voter protections, gender anti-discrimination laws and legal weed. But 23% said they don’t want to live in places with strong anti-discrimination laws, 22% don’t want to live in a state with legal weed, and 16% don’t want to live where there are strong voter protections.

Americans consider many factors when deciding where to live, and some of those factors have political overtones. Many parents base home-buying decisions on the quality of schools, which drives up home prices in the best school districts and creates de facto segregation. The white-flight phenomenon has a similar effect, with whites who can afford to leaving urban areas for places where they consider quality of life better.

But those types of location decisions are based more on family-first attitudes than the liberal-conservative divide that’s taking root now. Americans choose a political tribe when they vote, donate money to political causes and decide which cable-news station to watch. Perhaps it’s only natural that Americans want to live among their political comrades, as well. Like much of America, real-estate listings are trending toward liberal or conservative.  

Rick Newman is the author of four books, including “Rebounders: How Winners Pivot from Setback to Success.” Follow him on Twitter: @rickjnewman. You can also send confidential tips.

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