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.
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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).
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 –
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* –
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.
I also conducted a seemingly unrelated estimates (SUE) analysis. The results of that analysis were completely consistent with the results reported in Table 4.
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The author wishes to thank Jennifer Lawless, Tom Holbrook, and the reviewers for their comments and suggestions.
Appendix 1—Demographics of Survey Respondents
See Table 5.
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?
If the Republican Party nominated a woman for President, would you vote for her if she were qualified for the job?
If the Democratic Party nominated a woman for President, would you vote for her if she were qualified for the job?
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?
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)?
When you think about political candidates and officeholders, do you think men or women would tend to be more (assertive, compassionate, consensus builder, ambitious)?
Respondent sex, education, party identification, race, age, income, and state of residence
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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
- Women candidates
- Gender stereotypes
- Descriptive representation