Academic journal article Polish Sociological Review

Do Voters Read Gender? Stereotypes as Voting Cues in Electoral Settings

Academic journal article Polish Sociological Review

Do Voters Read Gender? Stereotypes as Voting Cues in Electoral Settings

Article excerpt


In this paper, I examine the impact of voters' stereotypes regarding candidate gender on then-propensity to favour either male or female candidates to the parliament. I draw on two strands of literature: the proposition put forward by Huddy and Terkildsen (1993a) holding that candidate gender gives a rise to the emergence of stereotypes concerning their qualifications and stances on political issues, and Sanbonmatsu's (2002) argument that such stereotypes breed voters' preferences regarding their representatives' gender. The link between gender stereotypes and voters' gender preferences is examined in the context of Polish parliamentary election of 2005. I find out initial evidence suggesting that, indeed, stereotypes concerning candidate qualifications and beliefs, as well as a voter's own gender, affect electoral preferences of Polish voters.

Keywords: gender-related stereotypes, baseline gender preference, voter choice, quotas.

Women's numeric representation in countries' national parliaments remains considerably lower than the analogous proportions of women in countries' populations (Interparliamentary Union 2012). Thus, researchers have eagerly addressed the problem of women's legislative underrepresentation and tried to identify the factors behind this state of affairs. Numerous studies focusing on Western democracies provide evidence that in the electoral contests women do not perform any worse than men (Darcy and Schramm 1997; Studlar and McAllister 1991; Darcy, Welch and Clark 1994; Black and Erickson 2003; McElroy and Marsh 2010). These studies find that the initial loss suffered by women in terms of the numbers of votes received is cancelled out when party identification and political experience of candidates are controlled for. Moreover, several authors claim that when such characteristics are taken into account women candidates may gain a small but consistent advantage over their male counterparts (Black and Erickson 2003; Borisyuk et al 2007; Dolan 1998; Smith and Fox 2001). The main conclusion from this body of research is that voters, in general, do not discriminate against women and, more importantly, that they largely ignore candidate gender (Zipp and Pluzted 1985; Black and Erickson 2003; McElroy and Marsh 2010).

Somewhat contrary to these conclusions, several authors explicitly note that the fact that women receive no less support from voters than do men does not preclude the possibility that voters take a candidate gender into account while deciding upon their ballot (Alexander and Andersen 1993; McDermott 1997; Sanbonmatsu 2002; Black and Erickson 2003). Indeed, there exists evidence to suggest that large proportions of voters are not indifferent with respect to a candidate's gender. Kira Sanbonmatsu (2002: 23) reports that a considerable portion of survey respondents (51 per cent of men and 62 per cent of women) declared a straightforward gender preference while choosing among two equally qualified candidates. In research on Polish local government elections (from 1994 up to 2002) Renata Siemieñska (2005b) found that despite the growing proportions of voters who declared voting for both men and women, a substantial share of the electorate consistently supported candidates of only one gender: in the 2002 local election 49 per cent of men and 45 per cent of women declared to have made a choice based on gender.

This study seeks to understand why voters exhibit such straightforward preferences with respect to their representatives' gender. This question seems valid regardless of whether, at the aggregate level, female candidates fare worse or better than their male counterparts. One significant explanation of voters' preferences regarding candidate gender was proposed by Kira Sanbonmatsu who refers to such preferences as ?baseline gender preferences' (2002). Sanbonmatsu states that baseline gender preferences are formed on the grounds of voters' gender stereotypes. In this study, I follow in Sanbonmatsu's footsteps by enquiring to what extent gender stereotypes can explain voters' preferences with respect to a candidate gender. …

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