Is Sexism for White People? Gender Stereotypes, Race, and the 2016 Presidential Election
On November 8, 2016 Donald Trump, a man with no office-holding experience, won the Electoral College, defeating the first woman to receive the presidential nomination from a major party. This paper offers the first observational test of how sexism affects presidential vote choice in the general election, adding to the rich literature on gender and candidate success for lower-level offices. We argue that the 2016 election implicated gender through Hillary Clinton’s candidacy and Donald Trump’s sexist rhetoric, and activated gender attitudes such that sexism is associated with vote choice. Using an Election Day exit poll survey of over 1300 voters conducted at 12 precincts in a mid-size city and a national survey of over 10,000 White and Black Americans, we find that a politically defined measure of sexism—the belief that men are better suited emotionally for politics than women—predicts support for Trump both in terms of vote choice and favorability. We find the effect is strongest and most consistent among White voters. However, a domestically defined measure of sexism—whether men should be in control of their wives—offers little explanatory power over the vote. In total, our results demonstrate the importance of gender in the 2016 election, beyond mere demographic differences in vote choice: beliefs about gender and fitness for office shape both White men and women’s preferences.
KeywordsPresidential vote Sexism Gender Race Exit poll
We thank Matt Barreto, Caroline Heldman, Nazita Lajevardi, Hannah Walker, and the participants of the UCLA May 2017 mini-conference for their thoughtful and instructive comments. We are grateful to David Rudd Ross for his careful reading. Thank you to Matt Barreto and Loren Collingwood for their efforts and organization. We greatly appreciate Skip Lupia’s helpful advice on training students to interview voters. We are indebted to Keith Gaddie and the College of Arts & Sciences for their support in developing the Community Engagement + Experiments Lab at the University of Oklahoma. We thank Joy Pendley for her leadership with CEEL. We are grateful to Doug Sanderson and the Oklahoma County Election Board for their willingness to work with researchers. Thanks to Alisa Hicklin Fryar and Tyler Johnson for their sage advice. Finally, thank you to the more than sixty undergraduate and graduate students who spent their day surveying voters and to Cathy Brister, Katelyn Burks, David Rudd Ross, and Jamie Vaughn for their field support.
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