Gender Stereotypes in Contexts of Terror Threat
Download data and study materials
Elizabeth J. Zechmeister
Home page: http://www.vanderbilt.edu/political-science/bio/elizabeth-zechmeister
Field period: 9/22/2009-1/27/2010
While there were significant increases in the percentage of women holding elected office in the 1990s, those numbers began to plateau in the 2000s (Schroedel and Godwin 2005). Women did break some important barriers in the 2008 presidential election with the candidacies of Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin, but neither was successful. One reason why women have a difficult time attaining higher levels of office is that voters generally perceive men as having traits and issue competencies that are most relevant to executive office (Huddy and Terkildsen 1993a; Gordon 2001). While many scholars have documented the presence of gender trait and belief based stereotypes, we are interested in how contextual circumstances (specifically times of threat and non-threat) might magnify or mitigate these stereotypes. In addition, we are also interested in how certain individual characteristics of female candidates might buffer against the influence of crises.
First, we expect that during times of national security crisis, compared to times of well being, individuals will perceive female candidates as more liberal (H1a), less capable of handling defense related issues (H1b), and as weaker relative to male candidates (H1c). Second, we expect that during times of national security crisis, compared to times of well being, individuals will perceive Democratic candidates as more liberal (H2a), less capable of handling defense related issues (H2b), and as weaker relative to male candidates (H2c). Finally, we expect that these stereotypes will interact such that the negative effects of a security crisis on female candidates will be weakened for Republican females (H3).
The between-subjects, random assignment design has eight conditions. The context varies between "Terror Threat" and "Times of Well-Being". The intention of this aspect of the treatments is to elevate concerns of threat in the Terror threat condition, and diminish any thoughts about threat in the Good Times condition. The design allows comparisons across subjects exposed to a condition of relative well-being and calm (Good Times) and those exposed to a condition of threat. Each context contains four cells to capture all combinations of candidate partisanship (Republican/Democrat) and gender (Male/Female): D-Male vs. R-Female; D-Female vs. R-Male; R-Male vs. D-Female; and, R-Female vs. D-Female. The threat and electoral context are delivered in the form of a news article
We assess issue stereotypes by asking subjects to place each candidate on an ideological scale and to rate the extent to which each candidate is capable of dealing with the issue of terrorism, a stereotypically male issue, and education, a stereotypically feminine issue. We assess trait stereotypes by asking the extent to which individuals perceive each candidate as a strong leader, a stereotypically masculine trait, and trustworthy, a stereotypically feminine trait. Subjects will also cast a vote in the hypothetical contest and place the candidates on overall feeling thermometers.Summary of Findings:
More specifically, we find that times of terror threat activate the effect of masculine stereotypes on candidate evaluations, though only for certain candidate types. This activation effect holds for Democratic female candidates, but does not hold for Republican males. Our findings provide support for the hypothesis that female candidates, particularly female Democratic candidates, have to face additional obstacles in a security-crisis laden environment. As security crises continue to permeate the national agenda, and as women continue to emerge as leaders in both the Republican and Democratic parties, our research contributes to the body of scholarship on why women continue to lag behind men in holding public office.