Academic journal article Political Research Quarterly

Women, War, and Winning Elections: Gender Stereotyping in the Post-September 11th Era

Academic journal article Political Research Quarterly

Women, War, and Winning Elections: Gender Stereotyping in the Post-September 11th Era

Article excerpt

Scores of political science studies reveal that female candidates fare as well as their male counterparts. But the percentage of citizens willing to support a woman presidential party nominee has significantly decreased over the last two years. Based on the results of a Knowledge Networks national random sample survey, this article offers the first empirical examination of the manner in which the atmosphere of war might affect women candidates' electoral prospects. I find that citizens prefer men's leadership traits and characteristics, deem men more competent at legislating around issues of national security and military crises, and contend that men are superior to women at addressing the new obstacles generated by the events of September 11, 2001. As a result of this gender stereotyping, levels of willingness to support a qualified woman presidential candidate are lower than they have been for decades. These findings carry broad implications for the study of women and politics. If women fare as well as men when the political climate is dominated by issues that play to women's stereotypical strengths, but are disadvantaged when "men's issues" dominate the political agenda, then we must reconsider the conclusion that winning elections has nothing to do with the sex of the candidate.

The events of September 11, 2001, profoundly affected Americans. At the mass level, the terrorist attacks led to citizens' "near unanimous support for military action" (Wattenberg 2003: 90). At the elite level, the divisive partisanship that plagued the first eight months of the Bush administration disappeared as Democrats and Republicans joined for a congressional rendition of "God Bless America" on the steps of the Capitol. Although bipartisan cooperation quickly waned, military crises, national security concerns, and efforts to curb terrorism continue to dominate the political climate. The President, his Cabinet, and members of Congress have stated that the "war on terrorism" may last indefinitely. Voters' attitudes about candidate suitability to hold high-level office in an environment dominated by foreign policy concerns, therefore, could affect the composition of our governing bodies for the foreseeable future.

For gender politics scholars, this atmosphere of war raises questions about prospects for women candidates' electoral viability for high-level office. On the one hand, two decades of research concludes that the electoral system is unbiased against women candidates. Individual accounts of women who face overt gender discrimination once they enter the public arena are no longer commonplace (Witt, Paget, and Matthews 1994). Further, in terms of vote totals and fundraising, investigators find that women fare at least as well as their male counterparts (e.g., Fox 2000; Burrell 1994, 1998; Dolan 1997; Darcy, Welch, and Clark 1994). But a decade of research also convincingly argues that gender stereotyping, linked to traditional sex roles, continues to pervade the electoral environment (Niven 1998; Flammang 1997; Fox 1997; Kahn 1996; Alexander and Andersen 1993). Depending on the issue domain at hand, voters attribute differential levels of expertise to men and women candidates and elected officials. Men and women are also viewed differently in terms of the traits and characteristics they bring to the political arena. Gender politics scholars are concerned, therefore, because the consensus in the literature is that voters are more likely to perceive men than women as strong, assertive, confident foreign policy experts. These very traits and areas of expertise are particularly relevant in a political context dominated by fighting terrorism, deploying troops, protecting national security, and brokering peace agreements.

Despite anecdotal evidence (e.g., Fox 1997; Burrell 1994) and the intuitive appeal of the logic that women candidates are disadvantaged when "men's issues" dominate the political agenda, empirical studies of gender stereotyping tend not to be linked to specific electoral conditions. …

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