The Impact of Gender Stereotyped Evaluations on Support for Women Candidates

Abstract

In 2009, women are still dramatically underrepresented in elected office in the United States. Though the reasons for this are complex, public attitudes toward this situation are no doubt of importance. While a number of scholars have demonstrated that women candidates do not suffer at the ballot box because of their sex, we should not assume that this means that voter attitudes about gender are irrelevant to politics. Indeed, individual attitudes towards women’s representation in government and a desire for greater descriptive representation of women may shape attitudes and behaviors in situations when people are faced with a woman candidate. This project provides a more complete understanding of the determinants of the public’s desire (or lack thereof) to see more women in elective office and support them in different circumstances. The primary mechanism proposed to explain these attitudes is gender stereotypes. Gender stereotypes about the abilities and traits of political women and men are clear and well documented and could easily serve to shape an individual’s evaluations about the appropriate level and place for women in office. Drawing on an original survey of 1039 U.S. adults, and evaluating both issue and trait stereotypes, I demonstrate the ways in which sex stereotypes do and do not influence public willingness to support women in various electoral situations.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3
Fig. 4

Notes

  1. 1.

    While this study does not directly examine people’s evaluations of Pelosi or Clinton, I do acknowledge that their presence in the political world may have influenced how people think about the appropriate representation of women in government. This notion that observing women in office can influence public attitudes is the basis for the work on the impact of women’s symbolic mobilization (Atkeson 2003; Hansen 1997; Koch 1997).

  2. 2.

    The correlations between the four variables measuring the gendered political stereotypes are as follows:

     

      Female policy Male policy Female traits Male traits
    Female policy .245* .398* .134*
    Male policy .245* .232* .338*
    Female traits .398* .232* −.038
    Male traits .134* .338* -.038
    1. p < .05
  3. 3.

    The correlations between the four dependent variables are as follows:

     

      Baseline preference Women president Republican Women president Democrat Parity
    Baseline Preference −.029 .431* .384*
    Republican Women president −.029 .094* .045
    Democrat Women president .431* .094* .360*
    Gender parity .384* .045 .360*
    1. p < .05
  4. 4.

    Recall that the female policies are education and health care, while the male policies are terrorism and the economy. Female traits are compassionate and consensus building, while male traits are ambitious and aggressive.

  5. 5.

    I also conducted a seemingly unrelated estimates (SUE) analysis. The results of that analysis were completely consistent with the results reported in Table 4.

References

  1. Alexander, D., & Andersen, K. (1993). Gender as a factor in the attribution of leadership traits. Political Research Quarterly, 46, 527–545.

    Google Scholar 

  2. Ashmore, R., & Del Boca, F. (1979). Sex stereotypes and implicit personality theory: Toward a cognitive-social psychological conceptualization. Sex Roles, 5, 219–248. doi:10.1007/BF00287932.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Atkeson, L. R. (2003). Not All cues are created equal: The conditional impact of female candidates on political engagement. The Journal of Politics, 65, 1040–1061. doi:10.1111/1468-2508.t01-1-00124.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Brians, C. (2005). Women for women: Gender and party bias in voting for female candidates. American Politics Research, 33, 357–375. doi:10.1177/1532673X04269415.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Burrell, B. (1994). A woman’s place is in the house: Campaigning for congress in the feminist era. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

    Google Scholar 

  6. Burrell, B. (2008). Political parties, fund-raising, and sex. In B. Reingold (Ed.), Legislative women: Getting elected, getting ahead. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner.

    Google Scholar 

  7. Center for American Women, Politics. (2009). Women in elective office 2009. Center for American Women and Politics, Eagleton Institute of Politics, Rutgers University.

  8. Deaux, K., & Lewis, L. (1984). Structure of gender stereotypes: Interrelationships among components and gender label. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 46, 991–1004.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Dolan, K. (2004). Voting for women: How the public evaluates women candidates. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.

    Google Scholar 

  10. Fox, R., & Smith, E. (1998). The role of candidate sex in voter decision making. Political Psychology, 19, 405–419.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Fulton, S., Maestas, C., Maisel, L. S., & Stone, W. (2006). The sense of a woman: Gender, ambition, and the decision to run for congress. Political Research Quarterly, 59, 235–248.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Hansen, S. (1997). Talking about politics: Gender and contextual effects on political proselytizing. Journal of Politics, 59, 73–103.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Huddy, L., & Terkildsen, N. (1993a). Gender stereotypes and the perception of male and female candidates. American Journal of Political Science, 37, 119–147.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. Huddy, L., & Terkildsen, N. (1993b). The consequences of gender stereotypes for women candidates at different levels and types of office. Political Research Quarterly, 46, 503–525.

    Google Scholar 

  15. Kahn, K. (1996). The political consequences of being a woman: How stereotypes influence the conduct and consequences of political campaigns. New York: Columbia University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  16. King, D., & Matland, R. (2003). Sex and the grand old party: An experimental investigation of the effect of candidate sex on support for a Republican candidate. American Politics Research, 31, 595–612.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Koch, J. (1997). Candidate gender and women’s psychological engagement in politics. American Politics Quarterly, 25, 118–133.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. Koch, J. (1999). Candidate gender and assessments of senate candidates. Social Science Quarterly, 80, 84–96.

    Google Scholar 

  19. Koch, J. (2002). Gender stereotypes and citizens’ impression of house candidates ideological orientations. American Journal of Political Science, 46, 453–462.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. Lawless, J. (2004). Women, war, and winning elections: Gender stereotyping in the post-September 11th era. Political Research Quarterly, 57, 479–490.

    Google Scholar 

  21. Lawless, J., & Fox, R. (2005). It takes a candidate: Why women don’t run for office. New York: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  22. Lawless, J., & Pearson, K. (2008). The primary reason for women’s underrepresentation? Reevaluating the conventional wisdom. Journal of Politics, 70, 67–82.

    Google Scholar 

  23. Leeper, M. (1991). The impact of prejudice on female candidates: An experimental look at voter inference. American Politics Quarterly, 19, 248–261.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. Palmer, B., & Simon, D. (2006). Breaking the political glass ceiling: Women and congressional elections. New York: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  25. Rosenthal, C. S. (1995). The role of gender in descriptive representation. Political Research Quarterly, 48, 599–611.

    Google Scholar 

  26. Rossenwasser, S., & Seale, J. (1988). Attitudes toward a hypothetical male or female presidential candidate—a research note. Political Psychology, 9, 591–598.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. Sanbonmatsu, K. (2002). Gender stereotypes and vote choice. American Journal of Political Science, 46, 20–34.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. Sanbonmatsu, K. (2006). Where women run: Gender and party in the American states. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

    Google Scholar 

  29. Sanbonmatsu, K. & Dolan, K. (2009). Do gender stereotypes transcend party? Political Research Quarterly, 62.

  30. Sapiro, V. (1981/1982). If U.S. Senator Baker were a woman: An experimental study of candidate images. Political Psychology, 7, 61–83.

    Google Scholar 

  31. Shapiro, R., & Mahajan, H. (1986). Gender differences in policy preferences: A summary of trends from the 1960s to the 1980s. Public Opinion Quarterly, 50, 42–61.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  32. Simmons, W. (2001, January). A majority of Americans say more women in political office would be positive for the country. The Gallup Poll Monthly, 6–9.

Download references

Acknowledgments

The author wishes to thank Jennifer Lawless, Tom Holbrook, and the reviewers for their comments and suggestions.

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Kathleen Dolan.

Appendices

Appendix 1—Demographics of Survey Respondents

See Table 5.

Table 5 Respondents for the survey come from a nationally representative stratified random sample of U.S. adults drawn for the project by Knowledge Networks

Appendix 2

Dependent Variables

  1. 1.

    If two equally qualified candidates were running for office, one a man and the other a woman, do you think you would be more likely to vote for the man or the woman?

    Man/Woman

  2. 2.

    If the Republican Party nominated a woman for President, would you vote for her if she were qualified for the job?

    Yes/No

  3. 3.

    If the Democratic Party nominated a woman for President, would you vote for her if she were qualified for the job?

    Yes/No

  4. 4.

    In your opinion, in the best government the U.S. could have, what percent, [from 0 to 100], of elected officials would be men and what percentage would be women?

Independent Variables

  1. 1.

    In general, do you think men or women in elected office are better at (improving our schools, dealing with terrorism, handling health care issues, handling the economy)?

    Man/Woman/No Difference

  2. 2.

    When you think about political candidates and officeholders, do you think men or women would tend to be more (assertive, compassionate, consensus builder, ambitious)?

    Man/Woman/No Difference

  3. 3.

    Respondent sex, education, party identification, race, age, income, and state of residence

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Dolan, K. The Impact of Gender Stereotyped Evaluations on Support for Women Candidates. Polit Behav 32, 69–88 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11109-009-9090-4

Download citation

Keywords

  • Women candidates
  • Gender stereotypes
  • Descriptive representation