Monday, March 7, 2011

The rise of the "Palin Effect": How one thing leads to another, and why I don't like it

This is one of those posts that's sure to sink me in that popularity contest I keep hoping to win, but what the hell - I've got something to say.

Last Friday, I was whipping through my Google alerts and Tweetdeck feed when I came across these two things:

First was an ABC News report in which my girl Kirstie Pike, founder of Prois, was quoted talking about the rising number of female hunters.

That was cool, but it was the headline that really got my attention: "Hunting and Shooting Industry Targets Women for the 'Sarah Palin Effect.'" In this story, reporter Susanna Kim seemed to be working really hard to get her sources to say that the rise in women hunters (and bless her soul, she didn't fall into the trap of quoting any wacky numbers) was a result of the "Sarah Palin Effect."

The sources didn't particularly cooperate with her, but that didn't keep Palin from being a focus of the story.

Twenty-five minutes later, I came across a story in the UK's Daily Mail from the day before with this headline: "Hot shot: Meet Regis, 19-year-old big game huntress who's America's deadliest teen."

How stupid is that? Like we have a competition to see which girl in America kills the most game animals. Duh.

Turns out the two stories were related: When I read through the Regis Giles piece, there was the source of this new "Palin Effect":

"Alaska’s most famous former governor’s much publicized love of hunting has led to an unexpected rise in female membership in the National Rifle Association - which some are calling the ‘Palin effect.’

... "Diane Danielson of the NRA’s Women On Target programme explains that the ‘Palin effect’ has increased female membership 20 per cent, with the NRA teaching 10,000 new women a year to shoot, and making more girls want to take up hunting, like Regis."

OK, now this made more sense. It appeared the ABC reporter was responding to that Daily Mail story. That happens in the news biz, bigtime - a competitor gets a good story and someone gets stuck with trying to make something "new" out of it the next day.

By the time I pieced all this together, the story was making its way across the Internet like a bong at a Berkeley sit-in. Suddenly, Sarah Palin was the inspiration for hundreds of thousands of new women hunters.

OK, Holly, you're saying to yourself. Why does this bother you so much?

Reason No. 1: I've worked with a lot of new women hunters over the past couple years, and not one of them said Sarah Palin was her inspiration. This, of course, doesn't mean that they weren't thinking that, but you'd think if Palin was having such a huge effect on the number of female hunters, someone might've mentioned it.

But that's really minor. My bigger issue is...

Reason No. 2: Sarah Palin is an extremely polarizing figure - a real love-her-or-hate-her character. If you love her, these stories are great. If you hate her, though, there's suddenly a real negative connotation associated with being part of the wave of new female hunters.

But Holly, you say, how many new hunters are being recruited from the ranks of liberals anyway?

Don't I wish I had numbers! A 2006 survey by Responsive Management, which I wrote about here, suggested that 11 percent of hunters and anglers consider themselves liberal, and another 37 percent call themselves moderates.

But the politics of new hunters? I got nothing. Except the fact that the idea of hunting for healthy, tasty, organic food is gaining traction in the liberal San Francisco Bay Area, and that's where a fair number of new hunters I deal with live.

Maybe this is much ado about nothing.

I'll be the first to remind you that I blogged excitedly about Palin's nomination before the news had even been confirmed back in August 2008 - I was thrilled that there might be not just a hunter, but a female hunter, on the Republican ticket.

And if she actually does inspire more women and girls to hunt, that's fantastic.

But it's always been important to me (well, "always" being as long as I have been hunting, which is four and a half years now) for hunting to be a bipartisan pursuit.

One reason is political. Politicians are beholden to - and will act in the interests of - the people who elect them, and, frankly, I'd like to see the Democrats a little more beholden to us. That means you need a pretty solid group of hunters who vote "D."

The other reason is social. If hunting is seen as something for conservatives only - and I fear the use of the term "Sarah Palin Effect" will exacerbate this notion - you're cutting out a huge portion of your potential recruits, male or female.

And that's something we can't afford to do.

© Holly A. Heyser 2011


hodgeman said...

Where to begin... ahem.

I'm sure the rise of female hunters has nothing to do with a lot of people working their collective tails off for a couple of decades now to actively promote hunting to women, such as my fellow BOW volunteers- its got to be the "Sarah Palin" effect.

People from all over the political spectrum deciding that hunting is a natural and sensible way to obtain food? Couldn't be the culmination of the work of hundreds of dedicated people writing, teaching, and encouraging others to undo to damnable work of rednecks and Walt Disney. Must be Sarah "Flash in the Pan" Palin wielding her conservative mojo...

When I was a kid you never saw a woman hunter. Never. Nowadays you see it with some real frequency and I think its a darn good thing.

My EX-governor on the news every flipping day is starting to chap me a bit, and thats a bad thing.

Sorry Holly, rant off.

NorCal Cazadora said...

LOL, nice rant, Hodgeman! Yeah, when Mike Hanback blogged about this last week, I mentioned the same stuff - organizations like NWTF and Cal Waterfowl working hard to bring women into hunting.

It'll be interesting to see what the half-life is on this story. The wacky stat I wrote about last fall still rears its ugly head from time to time. I predict I'll still see this being quoted a year from now. Especially since 2012 is an election year.

Ingrid said...

Fact check: at my last 473 Berkeley sit-ins, we passed a spleef, not a bong. ;)

The Suburban Bushwacker said...

"Politicians are beholden to - and will act in the interests of - the people who elect them"

Really? you must have a different kind over there!

Native said...

XLNT observations Holly!
I always have enjoyed your rant's, l.o.l.!! ;-)
Personally I am with you 100% that ms. Palin gets undue credit for the positive image that Hunter's now seem to be enjoying.
But, I gotta' say one thing about it all though!
I really don't care so much as how we have gotten here, only that we do seem to have arrived!
At least WE all know that the Hunting/Outdoor/Foodie blogger's like yourself,Phillip,Hank,Albert and all of our blogging friends over the past decade are 100% responsible for the New Positive limelight that we huntyer's are currently basking in!

Great post as always! And hope to see you at that All Star Jam in Santa Clara on the 8th! Then I can give you that C.D. I promised you! Ha!!

Kate said...

I'm a woman newly interested in hunting who thinks Sarah Palin is a staggering dipshit, and would never consider her an inspiration for anything. I'm pretty sure my interest in hunting was self-developed. That is, it grew from the immediate experience of how much work it is to raise meat for the table, and thus an interest in any alternatives. As for my politics, the Democrats and Republicans disgust me just about equally in different ways. I'm liberal in some senses, conservative in others, and usually hold my nose and vote D. I hate the choices I'm given at the polls though. Just one data point, of course.

Tovar@AMindfulCarnivore said...

Good post, Holly. I've been mulling over the possibility of a Palin-related post myself.

In political terms, my perspective is much like Kate's.

In strategic terms, I think it's foolish for pro-hunting folks to celebrate Palin as a voice for hunting. As you say, she's polarizing and lots of hunters do not identify with her.

I also think it's foolish for liberals to attack Palin for her rural-ness (which includes her hunting). Challenge her politics, fine. But go after her way of living, including her hunting, and you've just alienated a whole lot of people who might otherwise have been willing to listen.

Bumbling Bushman said...

Data point: Count me as a liberal hunter/angler from western NC (by way of Massachusetts - now THAT explains it!) BTW; Kate, I like your style.

Hil said...

What chucklehead decided that all of us girls are taking up hunting because of an extremely polarizing political figure who just came on the national scene a couple years ago? I don't have the figures in front of me, but I would wager that numbers of female hunters were on the rise long before any of us knew who Palin was. For that matter, I enjoy and respect Hanback's work but the ideas floating around over there that the Tiffany Lakowskys of the world are responsible for this increase makes me want to scream.

I'm wildly conservative, mostly Libertarian, and I'm sort of neutral about Palin. I was more of a fan before I watched her "reality show," whereby it became apparent that she has exaggerated certain abilities and interests. Heaven knows that caribou episode did not win any converts to the hunting cause.

Phillip said...

I'm not even remotely interested in the political side of the discussion, but I do agree with your take here. Then again, though, the best parts of this post for me were:

A.) "By the time I pieced all this together, the story was making its way across the Internet like a bong at a Berkeley sit-in." That's just classic!

B.) "Maybe this is just much ado about nothing." Which is most probably the case, in the big picture. It's a news story about something that's not really news. It'll be largely ignored by "the masses", and will likely have no significant effect on the recruitment or retention of hunters. "The Palin Effect" will turn out to be a veritable tempest in a teacup.

It's fun and educational to dig and pick at these ideas, but in the big picture we know there are larger factors afoot that will last longer and mean more.

This, too, shall pass.

Erik Jensen said...

Right on, Holly. It is ridiculous analysis, the rise of female hunters is driven by a number of people in the hunting community, both liberal and conservative, finally waking up to the fact that we have to get off our collective butts and recruit new hunters wherever we can. Additionally, there is one issue where American life/opinion continually drifts left: gender and sexuality. Even conservative dads a generation ago would have thought of hunting as a way to ESCAPE from women: their wives, girlfriends, daughters, etc. Now they are teaching their daughters to hunt, at least a number of them. I am from a liberal family and I'm 41. I thought the same thing when I was 17. Now my main hunting partner is a lesbian.

On the politics, these pieces are misrepresenting grossly the reality of hunters' politics and their complex political interests. Palin has anti-hunting politics, as she is anti-conservation. But, she enjoys and celebrates the activity, (even though her skills are definitely in question). The political left supports conservation, but has a much larger portion of its members who are anti-hunting. It's still a minority, but a significant one. There are anti-hunting conservatives, but it's an isolated group.

All of this makes me put significant political energy as a highly progressive person who loves hunting into moving hunters to the left and moving the left towards hunters in my little corner of the world. Fortunately, I live in Minnesota and it's a liberal but highly pro-hunting state. I feel bad for liberal east or west coasters who love to hunt, that's all I can say...

Matt Ames said...

I agree with Ingrid. There is not a single sitter of a Berkeley sit in that would ever risk not getting their bong back. Everyone knows that doobies are the delivery device for sharing weed at a sitting of souls in such a hippified gathering.

kirstie pike said...

Having contributed to this article regarding the Sarah Palin effect, I think that the perhaps there is a lot of overthinking and about the topic as a whole.
1. Is Sarah Palin influencing women to hunt or take up shooting sports? Perhaps. Love her or hater her...she has brought the "women do hunt and shoot" mentality to mainstream media, which doesn't occur very often.
2. Does this coverage in mainstream media thus compute to more numbers of women entering the shooting/hunting arenas? Who knows if this is actually a catalyst that truly causes women to enter the sport or if it is simply reafirmation to what they already do and love. Who cares? We should celebrate women encouraging women, no matter who or how.
3. As a CEO of a woman's hunting apparel company I CAN tell you this...not too many days pass that our company is presented with customers and supporters who truly appreciate Sarah Palin's advocacy of women and hunting. I am certain there are just as many who do not support this...we are just not confronted with that.
4. It is difficult for me to try to compute why there is a debate between liberal and conservative stances, love and hate Sarah Palin philosophies, etc... the bottom line is this- if you are a woman and you love to shoot or hunt for whatever reason brought you to the sport...does it really matter? saddens me to see politics and political leanings brought into this sport. At the end of the day...aren't we all women who just love to do the same thing?

NorCal Cazadora said...

Ingrid and Matt: Apologies! I didn't know Berkeley protesters were so selfish with their drug paraphernalia.

Native: Thanks! I won't take 100 percent responsibility, but I'd like to think I'm at least a small part of it.

Kate: Funny, when Hank was hunting and I wasn't, I once asked him, "Wouldn't it be easier to raise rabbits than for you to go out and hunt them?" I now realize it would be easier on the kill day, but not the dozens and hundreds of days leading up to it.

And I'm with you, for the most part, on the politics - I choose to vote for based on whether I think that position needs a liberal or conservative, so I cast votes all over the spectrum.

Tovar: Totally agree with you on the danger of liberals criticizing her for her rural-ness. I've lived both in deep country and fairly big city, and smug city attitudes piss me off pretty quickly. What's really going on, though, is each side ridiculing the other for its ignorance - rural folks' ignorance of cosmopolitan ways, city folks' ignorance of how their food is produced.

BB: Yes, Massachusetts explains everything! ;-)

Hil: I thought the same thing, and I wonder if it was just an offhand remark by the NRA woman quoted in the Daily Mail, or if it's part of a deliberate new strategy on the part of the NRA. Neither would surprise me.

I'm with you on the caribou episode. I was really disappointed at how dependent she seemed on her dad in that episode. She didn't seem like a lifelong hunter at all. (Of course, that's not the problem mainstream America had with it, but whatever.)

Phillip: Thank you for not correcting me like Ingrid and Matt!

As for much ado about nothing, we'll see. The immediate buzz has already died down, but I guarantee you, next time a reporter - TV, radio, newspaper or 'net - is asked to do a story on the increase in women hunters, the "Palin Effect" is going to pop up in that person's research, and if that reporter isn't well-versed in hunting culture, it could get repeated blindly.

Erik: Yeah, you do live in an unusual place, and thanks for your pity, because in my state, we've got Hollywood, which produces PETA supporters left and right. Fortunately, we also have the SF Bay Area, which is much more in tune with the real world. Huge growing interest in hunting there - I really wish someone would study it so I could have some NUMBERS!

Kirstie: Re No. 4, I agree, and that was the whole reason for this piece - I don't want hunting to be seen as a Republican thing, because you're right: What drives us to hunt is really apolitical.

Re No. 1, that was one reason I was excited about her the day she was announced as McCain's running mate. That lasted about three days before her negatives skyrocketed and I suddenly found myself a little worried about her being our national spokes-politician. Even in the absence of this story, it bothers me that she's probably the best-known female hunter in America, because I don't want the best-known female hunter to be hated by so many people.

Thanks for weighing in!

Kate said...

Oh, well...if it's rabbits you want, that's easy-peasy. Just grow a garden, wait for them to come around for your carrots, and pop them off. No labor to raise them, no drive to hunt them. Also, they're fearless, so you can get within feet of them, where a good air rifle suffices.

hanback said...

hmm, i've spoken on this and feel Ms. Palin hunting on TV has some effect, her TV presence is undeniably powerful, polarizing or no; today i posted a "no sarah" hunt where a young woman went out and shot an 11-pt. buck while hubby Scott sat home and watched the twins, a diff spin on it and cool

Albert Quackenbush said...

Holly, once again you have sparked an excellent debate. I am just waiting for the other side to chime in.

In the meantime, I have to agree with you on this. I would also like to point out that there are plenty of other factors that are helping women get into the outdoors.

How about the fact that many husbands, boyfriends, or significant others want to get their better half outdoors with them? I see it all over and most of the women I know that are new to hunting in the past 6 years are out there because they were encouraged to do so by their partner.

I also think that way before this Palin Effart, I mean 'Palin Effect', there was a change in the attitude of many male hunters out there. I can't and won't try to pinpoint it on any one specific thing, but I see fathers taking their daughters out and getting them shooting just to share with them. If it leads to them hunting, then great, but Palin had absolutely nothing to do with any of that. I know when I first started hunting and a woman wanted to get out and hunt it was laughable to most. My mom got her shotgun, cold weather gear and hit the deer trail many moons ago and the only reason she didn't stick with it is because no one but her kids encouraged her. Other women I have known just wanted to provide for their families and this was 20+ years ago. Palin was barely weaned from the spliff that's being passed around.

Sorry for the tangent, but I think that the media is just using this as a spectacle and leverage for a run in 2012. Trust me, this will come back into the limelight once polling starts again. Good grief.

NorCal Cazadora said...

Hey Mike, thanks for stopping by! Folks, if you want to see the blog post he's talking about, click here.

And thanks for arguing with me a bit on this. I mean that sincerely: While I love for people to agree with me (flattering!), it's really important for people to pick holes in my arguments - that makes me sharper, and sometimes shows me that I might actually be - gasp! - wrong about something. Phillip does that all the time, much to my chagrin.

(Of course, I say this having just posted a comment on your blog arguing back with you. Sorry about that! It's a genetic defect on my part. ;-) )

Your post is a great twist on the normal hunting situation. I know a hunting couple that always argues about who's going to stay home with the kids - so glad I don't have to fight that battle.

Al: Agreed - I think close family members (significant other or parent) are the biggest force behind this increase, and I agree that changing attitudes among dads is huge (and check out this chart, which shows you how dramatic that effect is.)

Tamar said...

There's a term that I thought was psychology lingo but could be just part of my family lexicon: negative organizer. It's someone who, by virtue of being involved in a project, drives other people away.

As to whether Sarah Palin is one, I don't think I can say. Kate summed up my view of her. "Staggering dipshit" just can't be improved upon. But I'm doing my best to totally ignore her (Palin, not Kate) because I think that's the reception that Americans ought to give her. I suspect her fame will be relatively short-lived, as will any influence she has on female hunters.

Ingrid and Matt -- I'm coming to you for proofreading whenever I mention drug paraphernalia.

NorCal Cazadora said...

Negative organizer - never heard that, but I see what you mean.

I really don't spend a lot of time watching or caring about Sarah Palin and her politics either. Frankly, I don't care whether people agree with her or disagree with her - I have a high tolerance for radically different points of view. I just don't want her negatives rubbing off on me or my community of hunters.

Josh said...

I love the conversations going on here - you really struck something, Holly, and that goes to your insight. Great work.

I'd like to point out that the "Palin Effect" line appears to have come from the NRA - at least, that's what the article would leave one to believe. Frankly, if you want to look for a point-source for polarizing politics when it comes to guns and hunting, you don't have to look further than the NRA; remember when and WHY the first Pres. Bush publicly resigned from membership?

NorCal Cazadora said...

I'm actually open to the possibility that this was an offhand remark, not a strategic effort, from the NRA, but I really can't know. (I'm way more comfortable reading the tea leaves about, for example, how the ABC story came about.)

Ingrid said...

Ingrid and Matt: Apologies! I didn't know Berkeley protesters were so selfish with their drug paraphernalia.

So, you would consider allowing officials to confiscate said devices the most "unselfish" form of weed sharing? (lol) :)

NorCal Cazadora said...

Yes. Have some compassion, Ingrid! Officials have weed needs too! ;-)

SimplyOutdoors said...


Of all the new female hunters I've came in contact with in recent months - about a handful - I've yet to hear one of them reference Sarah Palin as they reason they started.

Honestly, I'm looking at this through the same eyes as Phillip, I guess, because I just don't see it as a big issue.

It's seems like an overblown news story to me.

NorCal Cazadora said...

Simply, I hope it's not. But I spend a lot of time paying attention to my Google alerts, and things like this tend to stick around for a long time. They might lie low for a while, but they always pop back up eventually.

Hunt Like You're Hungry said...

Holly- First off, thanks for writing this piece. I had no idea crap like this was circulating around the internet. Secondly, DU and I just had a good laugh reading this. I remember when I wrote my Negative Hunter Representation post on Miss Palin, I expressed to more than one person that she does NOT represent female hunting in the least. I find it repulsive that women hunters are being tied in with her, as I began hunting long before she killed a Caribou on TV with a vermin gun.

Again, great post.


slm313 said...

About the only thing that Sarah P has encouraged me to do is to ask Darren over and over "how much kick will it have", which was probably the funniest thing about her hunting trip in Alaska. I'm actually surprised Darren hasn't kicked me yet, since I asked him about 30 times during our quest for a rifle. Beyond that, I didn't really choose to hunt because of Sarah Palin...of course now, I do have something to tell all my coworkers who ask incredulously "but why do you hunt?". Can hardly wait for the comments I get back!