Negative Campaign Attacks May Hurt Women Candidates More Than Their Male Counterparts

A new study by political scientists at West Virginia University and Tulane University in New Orleans, finds that negative campaign advertisements tended to do more damage to women candidates, particularly Democrats, than to male candidates.

Researchers asked study participants to read mock newspaper articles about a candidate attacking an opponent in a state senate primary. The articles varied the gender and party of the attacked candidate as well as the attacks based on typically masculine or feminine issues and traits. Study participants were asked about their likelihood of voting for each candidate after reading the articles. Negative attacks were effective in harming most candidates but voters judged women more harshly, especially when women were attacked on stereotypical strengths.

Mirya Holman, associate professor of political science at Tulane University and a coauthor of the study, said that “we know that voters are concerned about women being strong enough leaders. But the takeaway of this research is that’s not enough. They also need to portray themselves as caring, working well with others and compassionate. They need to both be a strong leader and work well with others. Male candidates don’t necessarily have to be both of those things. Women who run for public office have to, in many ways, be all things to all people.”

The full study, “Party and Gender Stereotypes in Campaign Attacks,” was published on the website of the journal Political Behavior. it may be accessed here. Erin C. Cassese, an associate professor of political science at West Virginia University is the co-author of the study.

Filed Under: Research/Study


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