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Gender Stereotypes and Attitudes toward Women Candidates
Unformatted Document Text:  majority of respondents (60 percent) have a baseline gender preference for a man candidate, but a sizeable minority (40 percent) indicates that they would prefer a woman. A majority of respondents claim a willingness to vote for a Republican woman for president (60 percent). But support for a Democratic woman candidate for president is clearly higher, with 71 percent of respondents expressing this perspective. Since the survey was taken in September 2007, this may be, in part, the influence of Hillary Clinton’s candidacy. However, it is more likely another confirmation of the finding that Republican women candidates sometimes face greater electoral challenges than do Democratic women (King and Matland 2003; Palmer and Simon 2006; Lawless and Pearson 2008). Finally, when asked for their vision of gender balance in the “best government,” a majority of people (53 percent) call for parity between women and men. It is interesting to note that people’s ideal is something that is light years away from reality, although the degree to which measures taps socially desirable answers is impossible to know. Also interesting is the fact that almost 40 percent of the sample would prefer majority-male government (between 51-100 percent) and only 9 percent seek majority-female government. Table 2 presents a mixed picture of the presence of political gender stereotypes in the sample. With regard to stereotypes about women’s and men’s issue competencies, there are few surprises. On three of the four issues, a majority of respondents see one sex as better at handling the issue than the other sex and these attitudes fall in the expected direction. Majorities see women as better able to handle education and health care and see men as more competent at handling terrorism. However, it is worth noting that between 38-40 percent of respondents see no difference between women and men in the ability to handle each of these issues. On economic matters, which is generally considered a “male” area of expertise, 51 percent of respondents saw no difference between women and men in ability to handle the issue and only 28 percent held the predicted stereotype of male competence. With regard to the trait stereotypes, there is a muddier picture. On three of the four issues (assertive, consensus-builder, ambitious), either a plurality or majority of people saw no difference between women and men in the likelihood of possessing that trait. Only on the variable measuring compassion did a majority of respondents (71 percent) hold the expected stereotype, which is assuming women would be more compassionate than men. While it is difficult to tell whether respondents are expressing a desire to appear egalitarian in their evaluations of the personality traits of women and men, it is also possible that stereotypes about traits are changing. In general, the ability of the public to evaluate women candidates as assertive or ambitious as easily as they do men would be a positive thing. Since much of the work on attitudes toward women candidates focuses on gender differences in those attitudes, Table 3 presents mean differences in women’s and men’s responses on the dependent variables and on the stereotype measures. Not surprisingly, women and men hold significantly different positions on each measure and conform to expectation on each. There is indeed a gender gap in preferring women as candidates and in office. Women are more likely than men to have a baseline preference for women 6

Authors: Dolan, Kathleen.
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majority of respondents (60 percent) have a baseline gender preference for a man
candidate, but a sizeable minority (40 percent) indicates that they would prefer a woman.
A majority of respondents claim a willingness to vote for a Republican woman for
president (60 percent). But support for a Democratic woman candidate for president is
clearly higher, with 71 percent of respondents expressing this perspective. Since the
survey was taken in September 2007, this may be, in part, the influence of Hillary
Clinton’s candidacy. However, it is more likely another confirmation of the finding that
Republican women candidates sometimes face greater electoral challenges than do
Democratic women (King and Matland 2003; Palmer and Simon 2006; Lawless and
Pearson 2008). Finally, when asked for their vision of gender balance in the “best
government,” a majority of people (53 percent) call for parity between women and men.
It is interesting to note that people’s ideal is something that is light years away from
reality, although the degree to which measures taps socially desirable answers is
impossible to know. Also interesting is the fact that almost 40 percent of the sample
would prefer majority-male government (between 51-100 percent) and only 9 percent
seek majority-female government.
Table 2 presents a mixed picture of the presence of political gender stereotypes in
the sample. With regard to stereotypes about women’s and men’s issue competencies,
there are few surprises. On three of the four issues, a majority of respondents see one sex
as better at handling the issue than the other sex and these attitudes fall in the expected
direction. Majorities see women as better able to handle education and health care and
see men as more competent at handling terrorism. However, it is worth noting that
between 38-40 percent of respondents see no difference between women and men in the
ability to handle each of these issues. On economic matters, which is generally
considered a “male” area of expertise, 51 percent of respondents saw no difference
between women and men in ability to handle the issue and only 28 percent held the
predicted stereotype of male competence.
With regard to the trait stereotypes, there is a muddier picture. On three of the
four issues (assertive, consensus-builder, ambitious), either a plurality or majority of
people saw no difference between women and men in the likelihood of possessing that
trait. Only on the variable measuring compassion did a majority of respondents (71
percent) hold the expected stereotype, which is assuming women would be more
compassionate than men. While it is difficult to tell whether respondents are expressing a
desire to appear egalitarian in their evaluations of the personality traits of women and
men, it is also possible that stereotypes about traits are changing. In general, the ability
of the public to evaluate women candidates as assertive or ambitious as easily as they do
men would be a positive thing.
Since much of the work on attitudes toward women candidates focuses on gender
differences in those attitudes, Table 3 presents mean differences in women’s and men’s
responses on the dependent variables and on the stereotype measures. Not surprisingly,
women and men hold significantly different positions on each measure and conform to
expectation on each. There is indeed a gender gap in preferring women as candidates and
in office. Women are more likely than men to have a baseline preference for women
6


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