This past Thursday, the Women and Gender Studies and the Political Science Departments welcomed Professor of Political Science at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Kathleen Dolan. Dolan was invited to campus to discuss her latest book, “When Does Gender Matter? Women Candidates and Gender Stereotypes in American Elections.”
Prior to this book, Dolan has published a number of papers in journals regarding this topic. She also published a book in 2010 entitled, “Voting for Women: How the Public Evaluates Women Candidates.”
Through her work, Dolan has personally attempted to challenge the assumption that women political candidates are at a disadvantage due to stereotypes and the gendered nature of American society.
Dolan concludes in her book that the reality is that female candidates actually do just as well as males in elections.
Yet, women are significantly underrepresented in politics, comprising only 19 percent of Congress, 10 percent of governors, 23 percent of state executives, and 24 percent of state legislators.
With such low numbers, Dolan states, “It is not unexpected to think that women are affected negatively by stereotypes in elections; however, this is only because of the stereotypical treatment of women.”
This treatment is clear in the way the media tends to be hyper-focused on women candidates’ appearance, personality traits, family roles and abilities. Dolan attributes this as “evidence that, even when women candidates can be analyzed in other ways, the media tries to bring it back to gender.”
In order to prove that these stereotypes do not have an actual impact on the way a person votes, Dolan conducted a two-wave panel survey of 3,150 American adults during the 2010 elections with both single and mixed-sex races from 29 states with 650 candidates.
Her expectations of this survey were to find that “gender stereotypes are attitudes that may not behave as expected in the real world,” and “abstract stereotypes are less likely to shape candidate evaluations and vote decisions because the real impact on vote choice is traditional political influences, such as political party and incumbency.”
She found that, “stereotypes have very limited relation to evaluations of candidates and no relation to vote choice… The key is sharing the political party of a woman candidate.”
Political parties tend to be the most important factor in vote choice even though, and as Dolan says, “you would think that because society is more egalitarian, people would be more likely to vote for a woman candidate.”
Essentially, voters will not cross party lines, to vote for or avoid voting for a woman. As for what this means for the future of women in politics and the future of stereotypes, Dolan concluded, “stereotypes remain relevant because people think and believe gender matters, and until we can convince people that this is not true, we will continue to see it in the media and campaign coordination.”
With the impending presidential nominations, Professor Dolan reminded us that “people are more used to experiencing women as leaders and we forget to account for those changing feelings.”