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The Gendered Face of Partisan Politics: Consequences of Intersecting Gender and Partisan Stereotypes for Politician Perception


Historically, women have been at a disadvantage in U.S. politics. Recently, social-cognitive researchers have begun to investigate how gender and partisan stereotypes operate through politician appearance. Here I test the hypothesis that the gendered nature of the two major political parties in the United States manifests itself in the sex-typicality of politician appearance and has consequences for evaluations of female and male politicians. I draw from basic social cognition theory and the prejudice and stereotyping literature to propose a novel approach to understanding the consequences of gender stereotypes for perceptions of politicians (Chapter I). I specify a model documenting how partisan stereotypes and party-based adherence to traditional gender roles impact politician perceptions. The central tenets of this model are tested in Chapter II, Chapter III, Chapter IV, and Chapter V, and focus on a range of outcomes--trait evaluations, issue competencies, leadership ability, vote choice, and electoral success.

In the study described in Chapter II, I describe how politicians' gendered appearance impacts trait evaluations. I find that when politicians' appearance is congruent with their partisan stereotype that they fare better in their evaluations of warmth and competence. Moreover, perceived warmth varies as a function of gendered appearance for counter-stereotypic groups. Thus, gendered appearance impacts assessments of male politicians' warmth and evaluations of female politicians' competence.

In the study described in Chapter III, I test whether partisan stereotypes influence perceptions of politicians' issue competencies. I find evidence that partisan stereotypes drive perceptions of politicians' issue competencies such that a more feminine appearance compels more favorable evaluations of Democrats' ability to handle compassion/women's issues; a more masculine appearance compels more favorable assessments of politicians' ability to handle economic/military issues.

In the study described in Chapter IV, I describe how politicians' gendered appearance impacts leadership ability assessments. The pattern of result remains unclear. A feminine-appearance benefits perceptions of female Democrats' and female and male Republicans' leadership ability; however, a masculine appearance benefits perceptions male Democrats' leadership ability. These findings are not in line with my prior research and other published findings regarding gendered appearance and perceptions of leadership ability. Therefore, additional research is warranted to fully understand the influence of gendered appearance on assessments of leadership ability.

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