Good News for Female Political Candidates

Nichole Bauer

Dr. Nichole Bauer

From the January 2016 Desktop News | When it comes to politics, research suggests that stereotypes often put women at a disadvantage. Female candidates—more than their male counterparts—must appear to be tough leaders without sacrificing their image as nurturers in order to win over voters: If they come off too strong, they lose votes. And if they’re not strong enough, they lose votes.

So why would female candidates risk their chances of being elected by using negative campaign ads? Dr. Nichole Bauer, an assistant professor in the Department of Political Science, investigated the topic with Dr. Yanna Krupnikov of Stony Brook University. Their research was published in Political Behavior in 2014. At an awards ceremony in September 2015, the Elections, Public Opinion, and Voting Behavior section of the American Political Science Association named their article the journal’s best article for the year.

“Female candidates air negative ads all the time,” Bauer said. “They hire smart campaign advisers, so if it was a horrible idea, and they were always going to face a backlash, they would never ever do it.”

It turns out that backlash against females airing negative campaign ads is not as inevitable as researchers had previously thought. Bauer’s study articulates that there are only two situations in which female candidates will be disproportionately penalized for airing negative ads against their opponents: first, if the female candidate is perceived to instigate—rather than react to—the negativity, and second, if the candidate is of a different party from the voter.

“This is good news for female candidates,” Bauer said. “When they are trying to win voters of their own political party, the can take more risks than we previously thought.

“And as long as female candidates are seen as defending themselves—especially if it’s against a male candidate going negative—they are going to be fine because he’s always going to look like a bully.”

Bauer’s study is the first in her field to discover that female stereotypes often don’t enter voters’ minds until their opinions have been challenged. Seeing a female name on ballot isn’t enough to conjure bias, but if a voter’s political views clash with those of the candidate, stereotypes about how women should behave can flood in.

“We knew a little bit from previous research that who went negative first would matter,” Bauer said. “But before this paper was published, there was very little research that looked at the partisan relationship between female candidates and voters.”

To read Bauer’s article, click here.