Academic journal article Political Research Quarterly

The Different Effects of Gender and Sex on Vote Choice

Academic journal article Political Research Quarterly

The Different Effects of Gender and Sex on Vote Choice

Article excerpt


Explanations for differences in political preferences between men and women continue to be debated, generating more heat than light in attempts to locate their source and potential influence. The reason for this confusion rests on the lack of conceptual clarity concerning the difference between sex, typically referring to biological differences, and gender, assumed to result from socialization, and the difference these constructs might elicit in political outcomes. Utilizing two gender scales, the authors find gender identity exerts an impact on voter preferences above and beyond sex. They also find that individual differences in gender identity are not found to result from social influences but largely derive from unique experiences and innate disposition. The results have substantial implications for social scientists who theorize about and investigate sex and gender in studies of political attitudes and behaviors.


gender, genetics, voting, identity, personality

Men and women often exhibit predictable differences in political attitudes and behavior. Such divergences have formed the basis of demographic predictions in voting behavior since Lazarsfeld's early work (Berelson, Lazarsfeld, and McPhee 1954), although the common phrase gender gap did not enter the discourse until much later (Frankovic 1981). Indeed, much of the political discussion concerning past elections surrounds the demographics of how many, and what kind of, women supported particular kinds of candidates. This was most evident during the 2008 presidential election surrounding the demographics of which women supported Hillary Clinton or Sarah Palin.

A great deal of scholarship in both political science and psychology has addressed the sources and consequences of discrepancies in attitudes and behavior between men and women. But markedly few discussions explore potential distinctions between sex and gender in explaining either between-sex or within-sex differences in political preferences. In discussions where the concepts remain distinct, sex typically refers to biological reproductive status, while the notion of gender embraces a broad spectrum of dispositional differences and socially informed attitudes and behaviors. However, in the existing political science literature the meaning and influence of sex and gender are typically treated synonymously, and behavioral divergences associated with differences between men and women are assumed to result largely, if not exclusively, from processes of socialization (Eagly and Steffen 1986; Jennings 2006). This perspective overlooks contemporary findings in the medical sciences (e.g., Bocklandt and Vilain 2007) that reveal that gender identity results in large part from biological influences, including in utero effects, and does not derive from the effects of socialization. Surprisingly little interrogation has surrounded the ways in which either concept might differentially inform or affect political behavior. Here we seek to help fill that lacunae and advance the discussion by differentiating some of the ways in which sex and gender produce different sources of variation in political behavior. We also explore the sources of gender and examine what an explicit distinction between the concepts of sex and gender might mean for political behavior. In doing so, we hope to gain some empirical grounding for the ways in which gender differs from sex and why these differences might establish more conceptually valid models explaining attitudinal and behavioral differences in both men and women.

In contrast to the guiding principles of the discipline, we do not assume, a priori, that gender wholly results from processes of social construction. The common convention in political behavior research that labels "gender" in dichotomous terms reduces a quite complex intersection of both sex and gender into one discrete term. This practice confounds distinct traits by treating them as interchangeable and synonymous when there is no empirical basis for this fusing. …

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