Leadership as a Reflection of Who We Are: Social Identity, Media Portrayal, and Evaluations of Hillary Clinton in the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election

Abstract

The 2016 U.S. Presidential election presented a unique opportunity to study gender and leadership. Using the social identity theory of leadership (Hogg 2001) as a guiding framework, we sought to understand the effect of social identities—gender and political affiliation—on voters’ evaluations of Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton in this election. We surveyed 440 participants’ attitudes toward female leaders, political affiliation, level of media exposure, and their evaluations of Clinton’s charisma and effectiveness in Study 1. Results indicate that female voters, those with favorable attitudes toward female leaders, and Democrats were more likely to support Clinton; these relationships were strengthened by media exposure. Contrary to predictions, gender attitudes and political affiliation did not have a significant interaction effect on evaluations of Clinton. In Study 2, we conducted a content analysis of the media’s portrayal of Clinton on both ends of the political spectrum. Our findings revealed that partisan news outlets with opposite political leanings did significantly differ in their portrayal of Clinton’s prototypicality and competence as a leader. As a result, media coverage acted to magnify the role of political affiliation in voters’ evaluations of Clinton’s suitability for the highest political office. Theoretical and practical implications are discussed.

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Lau, V.W., Bligh, M.C. & Kohles, J.C. Leadership as a Reflection of Who We Are: Social Identity, Media Portrayal, and Evaluations of Hillary Clinton in the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election. Sex Roles 82, 422–437 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-019-01070-8

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Keywords

  • Social identity
  • Leadership
  • Gender
  • Political affiliation
  • Media
  • Election