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Helping to Break the Glass Ceiling? Fathers, First Daughters, and Presidential Vote Choice in 2016


Throughout her 2016 U.S. presidential campaign, Democratic Party nominee Hillary Clinton crafted messages intended to appeal to fathers of daughters and to highlight the implications of her historic nomination for American girls and women. Clinton reminded voters that her election could mean that “fathers will be able to say to their daughters, you, too, can grow up to be president” (Frizell, Time,, 2015). But did these appeals succeed in mobilizing fathers of daughters to support Clinton? Using original cross sectional and experimental survey data from the 2016 CCES, we ask two questions. First, were men who fathered daughters (a life event which we operationalize, for important methodological and theoretical reasons detailed herein, as men who fathered a daughter as their first child) more likely to support, and vote for, Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election than were those who fathered sons as their first child? Second, were Clinton’s direct appeals to fathers of daughters effective in increasing her electoral support? We find that fathers who have daughters as their first child are more likely to prefer and vote for Clinton, and are more likely to support a fictional female congressional candidate using a “Clintonesque” appeal that emphasizes expanding opportunities for “our daughters.” These results suggest that entry into fatherhood with a daughter (as opposed to with a son) is a formative experience for men that has consequences for their political choices in later life. Our conclusions inform the growing literature on the implications of fathering daughters on men’s political behavior.

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  1. 1.

    Throughout this paper, we use “first daughter” and “first daughterhood” to indicate when a male respondent has a first child who is a daughter.

  2. 2.

    As explained in greater detail below, our survey experiment featured a fictitious female congressional candidate in an attempt to insulate the experimental manipulations from the historic circumstances surrounding Clinton’s 2016 campaign and party nomination, and Clinton as a unique candidate.

  3. 3.

    In our observational analysis, we also uncover statistical evidence that the experience of fathering a daughter positively affects the probability that a father will support Clinton regardless of whether the daughter was first-born. However, for methodological and theoretical reasons described in this paper, we believe that (when using observational data) scholars would be prudent to use information about the first-born child if it is available.

  4. 4.

    Multiple, often intersecting individual-level factors played a role in shaping voters’ preferences in 2016 including age (Medenica 2018), anti-Muslim sentiment (Lajevardi and Oskooii 2018), racial resentment and economic anxieties (e.g., Cramer 2016; Luttig et al. 2017; Manza and Crowley 2017; Schaffner et al. 2018), authoritarian views (Macwilliams 2016), religiosity (Ekins 2017), and “collective narcissism” (Federico and De Zavala 2018). See Manne (2017) on Trump and misogyny.

  5. 5.

    One exception is an initial analysis that shows that men of color were more likely to vote for Clinton in 2016 (Ramakrishnan 2016; see also Towler and Parker 2018).

  6. 6.

    While Tesler (Tesler 2016a, b) found evidence that Clinton drew meaningful support from men who fathered daughters in the early months of the 2016 campaign, we know of no study that examines if fathers of daughters were more likely to support Clinton in the general election.

  7. 7.

    Sanbonmatsu (2002a) connects this baseline preference to gender stereotypes. Likewise, Dolan (2010, 2014) finds that male voters are more likely to see male candidates (as opposed to female candidates) as strong on an array of policy issues, results which also suggest a preference based on gender stereotypes. However, Dolan (2014) finds no evidence that gender stereotypes play into the ultimate electoral decision of these voters.

  8. 8.

    Because motherhood shapes women’s political attitudes in ways that are quite distinct from men’s attitudes (Elder and Greene 2012; Greenlee 2014), and because women, regardless of parental status, offer higher levels of support for female candidates than do men (Plutzer and Zipp 1996; Smith and Fox 2001), we do not expect that having a daughter will produce similar effects on women’s voting behavior and preferences. To strengthen our argument that first daughters have a clear and consistent impact on men’s voting preferences, we also offer full results of analyses for mothers.

  9. 9.

    We use the term “sex” here in concordance with the language used on our survey instrument to assess the identities of men’s offspring which allowed for the choice of either “male” or “female.” See Appendix A for longer discussion of this approach.

  10. 10.

    As we further discuss below, we advance an important methodological argument for focusing on men with first daughters in our analyses to properly operationalize our theory. For the purposes of assessing the effect of the sex of a child on the father’s presidential preferences net of other factors, the sex of the first-born child is our variable of choice, because it is essentially random with respect to parental characteristics. In contrast, the distribution of girl versus boy children in the family may be endogenous to parental preferences about the sex of children and total family size, and thus may be biased as a predictor of presidential preferences.

  11. 11.

    See for full survey description and Common Content data archive.

  12. 12.

    Since becoming a father entails a variety of selection processes, we did not compare fathers and non-fathers in order to avoid inappropriate comparisons.

  13. 13.

    All of our cross-sectional results are similar with Stein voters included in the 0 category.

  14. 14.

    One hundred percent of respondents identify as either male or female. Two percent of respondents also identify as “transgender” on a question specifically querying gender identity, and an additional 1.4 percent also responded as “prefer not to say” on this question.

  15. 15.

    Seventeen fathers who indicated that they had between 6 and 20 children were dropped from the final analysis out of concern that these individuals may have misrepresented the total number of their children. As a robustness check on our reported analyses, however, we re-estimated our models with all of these fathers included. The results of these additional analyses were substantively very similar to those reported in the paper.

  16. 16.

    The distribution of first daughters and first sons in our data reflects the distribution seen in the general population. We look to the 2013-2015 National Survey of Family Growth (NSFG) in order to benchmark the composition of our sample of fathers of first daughters against the national population of fathers. The NSFG is a survey of both men (N = 4506) and women (5699) aged 15–44 designed to produce national estimates of sexual activity, pregnancy, contraceptive use, medical care and use, father involvement with their children, and attitudes toward sex, childbearing, and marriage for use by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is primarily used by the federal government to plan funding for health services and health educational programs. According to the 2013-15 NSFG, of the 1719 men who have at least one biological child, 48% of these fathers had a first daughter and 51% had a first son. This closely mirrors the distribution of fathers of first daughters (45%) and first sons (55%) in our CCES sample, and thus we are confident that our sample mimics the distribution of fathers in the nation more broadly.

  17. 17.

    We include this final control in light of Healy and Malhotra’s (2013) finding that men with sisters may express more conservative gender attitudes. Though scholars have identified the contexts in which other familial relationships are consequential to men’s attitudes on gender equality, such as the employment status of one’s wife and mother or the educational attainment of one’s mother (Bolzendahl and Myers 2004; Davis and Greenstein 2009), we did not have these measures available in our data. We do, however, include a control for marital status, which we find does have a positive impact on electoral support for Clinton..

  18. 18.

    For question wording for the items that constitute this scale are found in Appendix B. Kinder and Sanders (1996) also used these measures.

  19. 19.

    We define “definite voters” as all individuals who indicate that they “definitely” planned to vote in the 2016 elections (or indicated they had already done so); and we define as voters all individuals who self-report that they “definitely voted in the General Election.” Note that each measure was taken at a different period in time (before and after the election, respectively).

  20. 20.

    We note that the hostile sexism scale does not reach a level of statistical significance in our model, despite other recent scholarship demonstrating its importance in predicting presidential preference in 2016 (Bracic et al. 2018; Cassese and Holman 2018; Valentino et al. 2018). However, we hesitate to derive any general conclusions from the results of our models about the influence of hostile sexism on support for Clinton, for several reasons. First, because the group examined in research highlighting the effect of hostile sexism on presidential support (white adults) is quite different from that examined in our study (fathers), it is possible that the general effect found in research on white adults simply fails to hold for fathers. However, and second, it may be that the null effects we find are attributable to the small sample of fathers used in our analysis. Our data do not allow us to assess these alternatives in detail. Given these uncertainties, and especially given that our research design was not developed with the primary purpose of evaluating the effect of hostile sexism on vote choice in mind, we prefer not to draw any firm conclusions about the effect of hostile sexism on support for Clinton among fathers at the present time. We acknowledge that whether and how hostile sexism influences the presidential preferences of different subgroups, including fathers and non-fathers, is a worthy subject for future research.

  21. 21.

    Our analysis of the effect of the experience of fathering a first daughter (or first son) on fathers’ presidential preferences takes place in the context of a very large literature on the correlates of presidential preferences, as well as smaller but fast-growing literature on the factors influencing support for Hillary Clinton/Donald Trump. Given that so much is known about what influences presidential preferences, we believe that the most appropriate way to assess the effect of first daughters is within multivariate statistical models that control for the full array of factors that has been demonstrated to affect individual support for (1) presidential candidates in general and/or (2) Hillary Clinton/Donald Trump in particular.

  22. 22.

    When using predicted values in order to determine statistically significant marginal effects, it is too conservative to use two separate 95% confidence intervals (Knezevic 2008). When the standard errors are roughly equivalent, a single 95% test translates into using two sets of 84% confidence intervals (Payton et al. 2003). Figure 1 displays two separate 84% confidence intervals..

  23. 23.

    We provide further discussion and analysis of mothers in the Supplemental Information.

  24. 24.

    To guard against the potential that a respondent may live in one of Minnesota’s actual nine congressional districts, we created the fictional 10th district of Minnesota. To avoid the possibility that a respondent living in Minnesota may recognize that the 10th district does not exist, we ran a model that controlled for whether the respondent lived in Minnesota. The results do not substantively differ when including this control.

  25. 25.

    We restricted the sample to respondents who correctly answered our attention check question which asked, “In what state will Molly Smith’s congressional election take place?”.

  26. 26.

    Smith’s ideology is assessed with the question, “Where would you place Smith on the ideological scale?”.

  27. 27.

    In this paper, we contemplate the impact of entering fatherhood with a child that the father categorizes in our survey as “female.” We acknowledge that for some small portion of fathers, the gender identity of their child may change over time, such that it does not neatly align with the dichotomous categories of sex that our survey question employs. Our survey instrument did not investigate whether fathers’ children either identify and/or are acknowledged by their father as transgender, non-binary, intersex, or gender non-conforming. We therefore also acknowledge that a father’s report that he has a daughter or a son may not map on to the gender identity of that child. Future research should further explore these dynamics.


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We thank all those who offered feedback on previous versions of this manuscript, especially Laura Stoker, Melissa Deckman, Sarah Kahn, the Working Group on American Politics at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, the University of Massachusetts Center for Research on Families, Hande Inanc, and the anonymous reviewers. This work was supported by a Faculty Research Grant from the University of Massachusetts–Amherst [to T.N.] and the Norman Fund at Brandeis University [to J.G.]. The 2016 Cooperative Congressional Election Study was supported by the National Science Foundation [Grant #1559125 to Stephen Ansolabehere], and the authors thank the co-PIs, Stephen Ansolabehere, Brian Schaffner, and Samantha Luks, for their support of this research.

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Correspondence to Jill S. Greenlee.

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Appendix A

The First Daughter Versus Other Operational Definitions of Daughters

We have argued that the first daughter is the best operational definition of exposure to daughters, for reasons relating to research design, modeling, and substantive theory. Here we provide more evidence for our claim that—especially given its research-design advantages—using the first daughter variable is the best decision from the perspective of modeling support for Clinton.

First, we observe that, among the fathers in our analysis, three different operational definitions of exposure to daughters that have been used in previous empirical research and which we collected in our survey—daughter as a first child (no = 0, yes = 1), the presence of a daughter in the family (no = 0, yes = 1), and the proportion of children in the family that are daughters (a continuous 0–1 variable)—are extremely closely related.Footnote 27 Among fathers in our study, the three items have a scale reliability coefficient of 0.88, suggesting that they likely tap the same underlying construct of exposure to a daughter. This finding suggests the utility of relying on the first daughter measure, especially given its superiority in terms of research design.

Second, and in part due to the very close relationship between these variables, the inclusion of these additional measures of exposure to daughters to our main statistical models adds very little in terms of explaining fathers’ support for Clinton. Indeed, as shown in Appendix A, Table 1, overall goodness-of-fit statistics for models of both pre-election preference for Clinton and post-election reported voting for Clinton are virtually identical for models that contain only the first daughter variable, and those that contain the additional measures of exposure to daughters, respectively. Thus, parsimony suggests relying on a model that uses only the first daughter variable.

See Tables 8, 9 and 10.

Table 8 Goodness-of-fit statistics for alternative models of preference for Clinton and reported vote for Clinton
Table 9 Preference for Clinton collinearity, 2016 CCES with weights
Table 10 Vote choice collinearity, 2016 CCES with weights

Appendix B: Survey Questions from 2016 CCES

Age In what year were you born? [TEXT ENTRY]

Sex Are you male or female? (1. Male; 2. Female)

Education What is the highest level of education you have completed? (1. No HS; 2. High school graduate; 3. Some college; 4. 2-year; 5. 4-year; 6. Post-grad)

Race What racial or ethnic group best describes you? (1. White; 2. Black; 3. Hispanic; 4. Asian; 5. Native American; 6. Mixed; 7. Other; 8. Middle Eastern)

Employment Status Which of the following best describes your current employment status? (1. Full-time; 2. Part-time; 3. Temporarily laid off; 4. Unemployed; 5. Retired; 6. Permanently disabled; 7. Homemaker; 8. Student; 9. Other)

Marital Status What is your marital status? (1. Married; 2. Separated; 3. Divorced; 4. Widowed; 5. Single; 6. Domestic Partnership)

Party Identification Generally speaking, do you think of yourself as a…? (1. Democrat; 2. Republican; 3. Independent; 4. Other; 5. Not sure)

Ideology Thinking about politics these days, how would you describe your own political viewpoint? (1. Very liberal; 2. Liberal; 3. Moderate; 4. Conservative; 5. Very conservative; 6. Not sure)

Importance of religion How important is religion in your life? (1. Very important; 2. Somewhat important; 3. Not too important; 4. Not at all important)

Income Thinking back over the past year, what was your family’s annual income? (1. Less than $10,000; 2. $10,000–$19,999; 3. $20,000–$29,999; 4. $30,000–$39,999; 5. $40,000–$49,999; 6. $50,000–$59,999; 7. $60,000–$69,999; 8. $70,000–$79,999; 9. $80,000–$99,999; 10. $100,000–$119,999; 11. $120,000–$149,999; 12. $150,000–$199,999; 13. $200,000–$249,999; 14. $250,000–$349,999; 15. $350,000–$499,999; 16. $500,000 or more; 97. Prefer not to say)

Sisters How many siblings do you have? Please count those no longer living, as well as those alive now. Also include any stepbrothers/sisters and children adopted by your parents. (TEXT ENTRY)

Father How many children do you have? Please count all that were alive at any time, including any you have from previous marriage or relationship, any adopted children, foster children (who have lived with you for at least a year), or stepchildren. Also, be sure to count any adult children as well as those under the age of 18. (TEXT ENTRY)

Age of Child In what year was (Insert 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, or 5th Child) born? (TEXT ENTRY)

Sex of Child What is this (Insert 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, or 5th Child) gender? (1. Male or 2. Female)

Racial Resentment Scale Items (1. Disagree Strongly; 2. Disagree; 3. Neither Agree nor Disagree; 4. Agree; 5. Strongly Agree): (1) Irish, Italians, Jews and many other minorities overcame prejudice and worked their way up. Blacks should do the same without any special favors. (2) Generations of slavery and discrimination have created conditions that make it difficult for blacks to work their way out of the lower class. (3) Over the past few years, blacks have gotten less than they deserve. (4) It’s really a matter of some people not trying hard enough; if blacks would only try harder they could be as well off as whites.

Hostile Sexism Scale Items (1. Disagree Strongly; 2. Disagree; 3. Neither Agree nor Disagree; 4. Agree; 5. Strongly Agree): (1) Many women are actually seeking special favors, such as hiring policies that favor them over men, under the guise of asking for “equality.” (2) Women are too easily offended. (3) Women seek to gain power by getting control over men. (4) When women lose to men in a fair competition, they typically complain about being discriminated against.

Economy is Worse Over the past year the nation’s economy has…? (1. Gotten much better; 2. Gotten better; 3. Stayed about the same; 4. Gotten worse; 5. Gotten much worse; 6. Not sure)

2016 Intent to vote (Pre-election) Do you intend to vote in the 2016 general election? (1. Yes, definitely; 2. Probably; 3. I already voted (early or absentee); 4. No; 5. Undecided)

2016 Presidential Preference (Pre-Election) Which candidate for President of the United States do you prefer? (1. Donald Trump; 2. Hillary Clinton; 3. Gary Johnson; 4. Jill Stein; 5. Other; 6. I Won’t Vote in this Election; 7. I’m Not Sure)

2012 Presidential Vote Choice (Pre-Election) In 2012, who did you vote for in the election for President? (1. Barack Obama; 2. Mitt Romney; 3. Someone Else; 4. Did Not Vote; 5. Don’t Recall)

Voted 2016 (Post-election) Which of the following statements best describes you? (1. I did not vote in the election this November; 2. I thought about voting this time but didn’t; 3. I usually vote, but didn’t this time; 4. I attempted to vote but did not or could not; 5. I definitely voted in the General Election)

2016 Presidential Vote Choice (Post-Election) For whom did you vote for President of the United States? (1. Donald Trump; 2. Hillary Clinton; 3. Gary Johnson; 4. Jill Stein; 5. Evan McMullin; 6. Other; 7. I’m Not Sure)

Molly Smith Experimental Treatments

Control Molly Smith is running to become the first woman to represent Minnesota’s 10th District.

STEM Treatment Molly Smith is running to become the first woman to represent Minnesota’s 10th District. She supports policies that would help increase the participation of women in careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).

Clintonesque Treatment Molly Smith is running to become the first woman to represent Minnesota’s 10th District. She supports policies that would help increase the participation of women in careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). She has said of her candidacy, “this campaign is about making sure there are no ceilings, no limits on any of us, and to ensure that our daughters will forever know that there is no barrier to who they are and what they can be in the United States of America.”

Smith Vote Choice Imagine you live in Smith’s district. Please indicate your likelihood that you would vote for her. (Scale: 1 = Very Unlikely to Vote for Her to 100 Very Likely to Vote for Her)

Smith Ideology Where would you place Smith on the ideological scale? (1. Very Liberal; 2. Liberal; 3. Somewhat Liberal; 4. Middle of the Road; 5. Somewhat Conservative; 6. Conservative; 7. Very Conservative)

Attention Check In what state will Molly Smith’s congressional election take place? (1. Indiana; 2. Connecticut; 3. Massachusetts; 4. Minnesota)

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Greenlee, J.S., Nteta, T.M., Rhodes, J.H. et al. Helping to Break the Glass Ceiling? Fathers, First Daughters, and Presidential Vote Choice in 2016. Polit Behav 42, 655–695 (2020).

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  • Fatherhood
  • Gender
  • Voting behavior
  • Hillary Clinton
  • 2016