Do Gender Stereotypes Transcend Party?

By Sanbonmatsu, Kira; Dolan, Kathleen | Political Research Quarterly, September 2009 | Go to article overview

Do Gender Stereotypes Transcend Party?


Sanbonmatsu, Kira, Dolan, Kathleen, Political Research Quarterly


Voters hold stereotypes about candidate gender and candidate party. Yet little is known about the intersection of gender and party stereotypes. In this article, we investigate whether gender stereotypes transcend party. We consider whether gender stereotypes affect woman politicians differently by party and examine the effect of partisan identification on gender stereotypes. We find that the public perceives gender differences within both political parties. Thus the presence of the party cue does not preclude a role for candidate gender. However, we also find that the implications of gender stereotypes are somewhat different for Democratic and Republican women.

Keywords: women candidates; gender stereotypes; party

Voters hold a range of stereotypes based on candidate gender, from personality traits to the candidate's ability to handle policy questions. Woman politicians are perceived to possess typically feminine traits, such as being warm and sensitive, and are believed to be expert on so-called woman issues such as education and women's issues. Meanwhile, men politicians are perceived to possess typically masculine traits, such as being assertive and tough, and are believed to be better able to handle so-called men issues such as crime and defense (Sapiro 1981-1982; Rosenwasser and Seale 1988; Leeper 1991; Huddy and Terkildsen 1993; Alexander and Andersen 1993; Burrell 1994; Mailand 1994; Kahn 1996; McDermott 1997; Sanbonmatsu 2002; Lawless 2004). Women in politics are also perceived to be more liberal than men (Huddy and Terkildsen 1993; McDermott 1997; Koch 2000, 2002).

The party affiliation of politicians also conveys useful information to voters about politician ideology and policy positions (Lodge and Hamill 1986; Petrocik 1996). Voters are familiar with party differences on a host of issues, from defense policy to social services and spending (Rahn 1993). Though politicians can be categorized by both gender and party, research on gender stereotypes and partisan stereotypes has proceeded on separate trajectories. As a result, past research has tended to treat these two important sets of variables in isolation, leaving us with little information about how they might interact in the minds of the public.

Existing research demonstrates the lack of precision in our understanding of whether and how gender and party stereotypes operate simultaneously to shape people's thinking about politics. Huddy and Terkildsen (1993) have posited that voter familiarity with visible woman Democratic politicians may explain the stereotype that woman politicians are more liberal than men politicians. Meanwhile, critics have suggested that gender stereotypes may merely reflect politician party. Brians (2005) finds that Republican women will cross over and vote for Democratic woman candidates, thereby allowing candidate gender to trump partisanship. At the same time, other authors suggest that any effect of candidate gender may disappear in the presence of party cues (Huddy and Capelos 2002; Mailand and King 2002). In this article, we seek to determine if gender stereotypes transcend party. We also seek to understand the relationship between respondent party identification and gender stereotypes about Democratic and Republican politicians.

This investigation is important for a number of reasons. How the public evaluates woman candidates is an unsettled question and is likely to depend on multiple political influences (Dolan 2004). For example, gender stereotypes have the potential to either help or hurt woman candidates (McDermott 1997; King and Matland 2003). At the same time, evidence suggests that voters view woman candidates as they do men candidates: through the traditional lenses of party and incumbency (Dolan 2004). Learning more about how party and gender stereotypes intersect will expand our understanding of the electoral situations woman candidates face. Also, understanding whether respondent party identification influences stereotyped evaluations might give us a sense of whether woman candidates face different challenges based on their party affiliation.

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