Gender, Context, and Television Advertising: A Comprehensive Analysis of 2000 and 2002 House Races

Article excerpt

Abstract

Are men and women portrayed differently in campaigns? Much scholarship and commentary expects that this is so, yet previous studies provide ambiguous evidence on the extent of gender difference. The authors provide a comprehensive analysis of gender differences in television advertisements in congressional races in 2000 and 2002 with data that allow them to take into account the frequency of airings, the sponsorship of the advertisements, partisanship, and competitiveness of the race. Although some gender differences emerge, the analysis reveals undeniable similarity in the presentation of male and female candidates in television advertisements.

Keywords

campaign advertising, gender, elections, political communication, stereotypes

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Do men and women run for office differently? Decades of research expect that they do. Much of the early blossoming of literature on women and elective office focused on gender difference-comparing the backgrounds of male and female candidates and gender-based stereotypes that could affect them (Bernstein and Bernstein 1975; Bullock and Heys 1972; Darcy and Schramm 1977; Dubeck 1976; Feree 1974; Gertzog 1979; Hedlund et al. 1979; Karnig and Walter 1976; Merritt 1977; Van Hightower 1977; Welch 1978). Today, research on gender and campaigns revolves around a new set of questions of difference: whether men and women candidates present themselves differently (Dolan 2005; Herrnson, Lay, and Stokes 2003; Schaffner 2005), are perceived differently by the electorate (Koch 2002; Sanbonmatsu 2002; Streb et al. 2008), and whether these differences affect citizen engagement and electoral outcomes (Atkeson 2003; Fox and Oxley 2003). Despite scholarly conclusions and popular assumptions, there remains little clear evidence about whether there are gender differences in the way candidates present themselves, why they may persist, and the implications of these differences.

Before we can answer the question of whether and how gender differences in the way candidates present themselves and are presented by others affect public perceptions and votes, we first need to establish that there are in fact differences. This articles focuses on that basic, persistent, important assumption.

There are a variety of reasons to expect that male and female candidates present themselves and are presented by others differently in campaigns. The first reason stems from expectations that men and women care about different issues. Though public opinion surveys show that these differences are actually quite small (Sapiro 2003, 606-10), there is a marginal tendency for men to care more about economics and women to care more about social issues. Furthermore, political elites are not immune from this political culture (Duerst-Lahti and Kelly 1995).

A second reason to expect gender differences in candidate presentation is that just as gender stereotypes and expectations underlie public perceptions and vote choice (Dolan 2008; Falk and Kenski 2006; Fox and Oxley 2003; Koch 2002; Lawless 2004; Sanbonmatsu 2002, 2003), they likely also underlie the behavior of campaign strategists and candidates. The behavior of party leaders reflects gender stereotypes (Sanbonmatsu 2006). The behavior of members of the press reflects them as well (Devitt 1999; Heldman, Carroll, and Olson 2005; Kittilson and Fridkin 2008), although the treatment of women and men in news media is generally equitable. (For a review, see Atkeson and Krebs 2008; Bystrom et al. 2004, chap. 2). These biases may also appear in the way candidates are portrayed.

Third, whether or not candidates and campaign professionals are aware of their own gender stereotypes, they are aware of the stereotypes held by the electorate. Members of the electorate perceive that male and female political leaders have different areas of expertise (Alexander and Andersen 1993; Burrell 1994, chap. …