Skip to main content

Courting the Women’s Vote: The Emotional, Cognitive, and Persuasive Effects of Gender-Based Appeals in Campaign Advertisements


In this paper, we examine the ways in which citizens emotionally react to and cognitively process campaign advertisements that contain group-based appeals. Specifically, we focus on the emotional, cognitive, and persuasive effects of three campaign ads aired during the 2012 election campaign that contained explicit appeals to women voters. We analyze differences across women and men in their emotional responses to the ads, in their reports of the memorability of the ads, in their cognitive engagement with the ads, and in how persuasive the ads were for vote choice. In so doing, we add nuance to studies of gender and campaigns and contribute to the expanding literature on the impact of strategic campaign communications.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3
Fig. 4


  1. 1.

    Data and script files needed to replicate the results have been deposited in the Political Behavior Dataverse.

  2. 2.

    We confine our analyses to white respondents only. In-depth examinations of the intersections of race, ethnicity, and gender are worth pursuing but outside the purview of the present study.

  3. 3.

    Storyboards and full text appear in the Online Appendix in the Political Behavior Dataverse. The proportion of ads crafted to appeal to women is about 10 % in our study. In a separate content analysis, we examined a set of 267 ads released during the 2012 campaign and found that about 6 % were crafted to appeal to women.

  4. 4.

    Although positive and negative emotions need not be highly correlated nor fall on a single dimension (see, e.g., Watson et al. 1988), in this case, they are (r = −0.35). Factor analysis of the five emotional reactions suggests a single dominant factor (with eigenvalue of 2.34; the second factor’s eigenvalue trailed far behind at 0.84). The magnitude of the factor loadings is roughly comparable across emotions, with the two positive and three negative emotions providing evidence of oppositely signed loadings. To create our valence measure, we generate a difference score that subtracts the average negative valence from the average positive valence.

  5. 5.

    For the pro-Obama comparison ads, we analyze responses to four positive pro-Obama ads (Succeed, The Choice, Clear Choice, Determination). For the anti-Obama comparison ads, we analyze responses to nine ads (Doing Fine, Shame on You, Hit, Right Choice, America Deserves, Forward, Failing, Too Many Americans, Eastwood).

  6. 6.

    All control variables are coded to range from 0 to 1. Age ranges from 0 (sample minimum, 18) to 1 (sample maximum, 102). Education takes six values, from 0 (less than high school) to 1 (postgraduate). Household income ranges from 0 (<$20 K) to 1 ($120 K+). Income refused is a dummy for those who refused to report their income. Single is a dummy for respondents who report being single, divorced, or separated.

  7. 7.

    Word counts were calculated in Excel:

  8. 8.

    A higher proportion of these comments were raised following the two anti-Obama ads than the pro-Obama ads, also suggesting that respondents may have been critical not simply in the cooptation of needs but in the credibility of the Republican Party in claiming its ability to address those needs.


  1. Abdullah, H. (2012). How women ruled the 2012 election and where the GOP went wrong. CNN. Accessed 29 December 2015.

  2. Allen, J. G., & Haccoun, D. M. (1976). Sex differences in emotionality: A multidimensional approach. Human Relations, 29(8), 711–722.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Atkeson, L. R. (2003). Not all cues are created equal: The conditional impact of female candidates on political engagement. Journal of Politics, 65(4), 1040–1061.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Belkin, L. (2012). Women voters won last night—But did anyone get the message? Huffington Post.

  5. Bradley, M. M., Codispoti, M., Sabatinelli, D., & Lang, P. J. (2001). Emotion and motivation II: Sex differences in picture processing. Emotion, 1(3), 300–319.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Brody, L. R., & Hall, J. A. (2000). Gender, emotion, and expression. In M. Lewis & J. M. Haviland-Jones (Eds.), Handbook of emotions (2nd ed., pp. 338–349). New York: Guilford Press.

    Google Scholar 

  7. Brooks, D. J. (2010). A negativity gap? Voter gender, attack politics, and participation in American elections. Politics and Gender, 6(3), 319–341.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Brooks, D. J. (2011). Testing the double standard for candidate emotionality: Voter reactions to the tears and anger of male and female politicians. Journal of Politics, 73(2), 597–615.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Burns, N., Schlozman, K. L., & Verba, S. (2001). The private roots of public action: gender, equality, and political participation. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  10. Campbell, D. E., & Wolbrecht, C. (2006). See Jane run: Women politicians as role models for adolescents. Journal of Politics, 68(2), 233–247.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Cillizza, C. (2007). Romney’s data cruncher. The Washington Post. Accessed 29 September 2014.

  12. Converse, P. E. (1964). The nature of belief systems in mass publics. In D. Apter (Ed.), Ideology and discontent (pp. 206–261). New York: The Free Press.

    Google Scholar 

  13. Ditonto, T. M., Hamilton, A. J., & Redlawsk, D. P. (2014). Gender stereotypes, information search, and voting behavior in political campaigns. Political Behavior, 36(2), 335–358.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. Fraser, N. (1989). Talking about needs: Interpretive contests as political conflicts in welfare-state societies. Ethics, 99(2), 291–313.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Fridkin, K. L., & Kenney, P. J. (2014). How the gender of US senators influences people’s understanding and engagement in politics. Journal of Politics, 76(4), 1017–1031.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. Gard, M. G., & Kring, A. M. (2007). Sex differences in the time course of emotion. Emotion, 7(2), 429–437.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Henderson, N-M., & Kane, P. (2012). Todd Akin should drop out of senate race, Romney Says. The Washington Post. Accessed 29 December 2015.

  18. Hersh, E. D., & Schaffner, B. F. (2013). Targeted campaign appeals and the value of ambiguity. Journal of Politics, 75(2), 520–534.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. Holman, M. R., Schneider, M. C., & Pondel, K. (2015). Gender targeting in political advertisements. Political Research Quarterly, 68(4), 816–829.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. Hruby, P. (2012). The Race Was on for Independent Women Voters. The Washington times. Accessed 3 May 2016.

  21. Issenberg, S. (2012a). The Death of the Hunch. Slate. Accessed 29 September 2014.

  22. Issenberg, S. (2012b). Anatomy of a narrow victory. Slate. Accessed 29 September 2014.

  23. Kahn, K. F. (1994). Does gender make a difference? An experimental examination of sex stereotypes and press patterns in statewide campaigns. American Journal of Political Science, 38(1), 162–195.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. Kam, C. D. (2007). When duty calls, do citizens answer? Journal of Politics, 69(1), 17–29.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. Key, V. O, Jr. (1966). The responsible electorate. Cambridge: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  26. Kinder, D. R. (1998). Opinion and action in the realm of politics. In D. T. Gilbert, S. T. Fiske, & G. Lindzey (Eds.), The handbook of social psychology (4th ed., Vol. 1, pp. 778–867). Boston: McGraw-Hill.

    Google Scholar 

  27. Kring, A. M., & Gordon, A. H. (1998). Sex differences in emotion: Expression, experience and physiology. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 74(3), 686–703.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. Kucinich, J. (2014). Fiorina to head new PAC aimed at recruiting more women to the GOP. The Washington Post. Accessed 29 September 2014.

  29. Lemm, K. M., Dabady, M., & Banaji, M. R. (2005). Gender picture priming: It works with denotative and connotative primes. Social Cognition, 23(3), 218–241.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  30. Markus, H., & Wurf, E. (1987). The dynamic self-concept: A social psychological perspective. Annual Review Psychology, 38(1), 299–337.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  31. McDermott, M. L. (1997). Voting cues in low-information elections: candidate gender as a social information variable in contemporary United States elections. American Journal of Political Science, 41(1), 270–283.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  32. Nteta, T., & Schaffner, B. (2013). Substance and symbolism: Race, ethnicity, and campaign appeals in the United States. Political Communication, 30(2), 232–253.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  33. Paolino, P. (1995). Group-salient issues and group representation: Support for women candidates in the 1992 senate elections. American Journal of Political Science, 39(2), 294–313.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  34. Rottenberg, J., Ray, R. D., & Gross, J. J. (2007). Emotion elicitation using films. In J. A. Coan & J. J. B. Allen (Eds.), The handbook of emotion elicitation and assessment (pp. 9–28). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  35. Sapiro, V., & Conover, P. J. (1997). The variable gender basis of electoral politics: Gender and context in the 1992 US election. British Journal of Political Science, 27(4), 497–523.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  36. Schaffner, B. F. (2005). Priming gender: Campaigning on women’s issues in US senate elections. American Journal of Political Science, 49(4), 803–817.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  37. Schneider, M. C. (2014). The effects of gender-bending on candidate evaluations. Journal of Women, Politics and Policy, 35(1), 55–77.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  38. Watson, D., Clark, L. A., & Tellegen, A. (1988). Development and validation of brief measures of positive and negative affect: The PANAS scales. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 54(6), 1063–1070.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  39. Wolbrecht, C., & Campbell, D. E. (2007). Leading by example: Female members of parliament as political role models. American Journal of Political Science, 51(4), 921–939.

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references


The authors thank W. James Booth for helpful advice and acknowledge financial support from Vanderbilt University for the data collection. Archer acknowledges support from the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program under Grant Numbers 0909667 and 1445197.

Author information



Corresponding author

Correspondence to Cindy D. Kam.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Kam, C.D., Archer, A.M.N. & Geer, J.G. Courting the Women’s Vote: The Emotional, Cognitive, and Persuasive Effects of Gender-Based Appeals in Campaign Advertisements. Polit Behav 39, 51–75 (2017).

Download citation


  • Gender
  • Campaigns
  • Campaign advertisements