Doubling Down on the Woman Card—a Clinton/Warren Ticket

This dynamic duo has the power to defy traditional gender-based stereotypes.

Posted Jul 02, 2016

When Hillary Clinton and Elizabeth Warren hit the campaign trail together last week, resplendent in matching blue pantsuit outfits, social media went wild with photos of the dynamic duo.  Creatively described as “twinsies” and the “Blues Sisters,”[i] the two powerful women made quite a splash together on the stump.  Showcasing confidence, competence, and chemistry, they hit the ground running.  The question now, however, is how well with they do as a team moving forward in the election. 

The historical same-sex gender pairing of a Clinton-Warren combo has political pundits buzzing with speculation.  Ever since Warren stepped out as a possible running mate for Clinton, voices on both sides of the political aisle have been sounding off about the anticipated success (or failure) of a dual-woman ticket.  Others wonder what the fuss is all about.  The race is about qualified candidates, isn´t it?

Despite the arguable unfairness inherent in injecting gender considerations into presidential politics, research proves that for some voters, it is a factor.  Usually one that operates to the detriment of female candidates.  But not always.  Strange as it sounds, negative gender stereotyping is most likely to come into play when a woman candidate reminds voters that she is a woman.  Read on. 

Doubling Down on the Woman Card: A Dynamic Duo or Double Trouble

Some naysayers predict that a Clinton-Warren ticket could potentially double the detrimental effect of female candidate stereotypes.  Yet in the case of these two talented polititians, that is not necessarily true. 

In one of my previous columns, In Politics, is it Always Good to Be a Woman? I discussed research that indicated that playing the woman card in politics does not always ensure a winning hand. Women running for political office are often not perceived as sharing positive qualities typically attributed to women in general, such as warmth and empathy.[ii]

In fact, female politicians often suffer a double disadvantage in the perception game, losing on both sides of the gender card. They are viewed as lacking positive female traits such as compassion and sensitivity, and also lacking positive male traits such as competence and leadership.[iii]

Interestingly, female professionals do not suffer from the same negative perceptions as female politicians.[iv]  Female professionals are viewed as more competent, capable, and empathetic than female politicians.[v]  But there is more to the story. As you might imagine, the impact of gender on political campaigns often has very little to do with experience and qualifications, and much to do with stereotypes.

Avoiding Bias at the Ballot Box

As a result of upbringing, experience, or demographics, some voters harbor gender based stereotypes.  Some voters are predisposed to attributing certain characteristics, both positive and negative, to political candidates based on gender.  But not always.

Recent research indicates gender based stereotypes do not automatically influence candidate evaluations.  Stereotypes influence voter perception once they are activated.[vi]

Stereotype activation occurs when a person uses a stereotype to judge a group member.[vii] With respect to women, activation does not occur upon simply perceiving female gender, but upon receiving information consistent with “traditional norms of femininity.”[viii]

Now let´s talk politics.  As much as reason argues otherwise, research indicates that presenting women in stereotypical female roles cause voters to view them as less capable of holding public office.[ix]  On the other hand, avoiding traditional female stereotypes and campaigning strategically on the issues may increase the success of women candidates.[x]

How do stereotypes become activated in political elections? Two ways that have been examined empirically are candidate advertising and media coverage.[xi]  It is speculated, however, that political opponents may attempt to activate stereotypes in order to decrease support for female counterparts.[xii]

Defying Stereotypes: a Clinton-Warren Ticket

How do such findings apply specifically to accomplished women like Clinton and Warren?  Most people who follow politics (and even many who don´t) know far more about these two women than merely their gender.  Indeed, when considering public officials, many people are more likely to consider success and status, rather than sex.  Consistent with this observation, research indicates that female experienced politicians may fare as well as their male counterparts because they already hold positions of leadership.[xiii] 

The bottom line is that in this political season, Clinton and Warren as a two-woman ticket is an option that many voters will judge based on merit, rather than gender. 

[i] http://nypost.com/2016/06/27/hillary-and-warren-go-twinsies-on-the-campa...

[ii] Monica C. Schneider and Angela L. Bos, ”Measuring Stereotypes of Female Politicians,” Political Psychology, Vol. 35, No. 2 (2014): 245-266.  Doi: 10.1111/pops.12040.

[iii] Schneider and Bos, ”Measuring Stereotypes of Female Politicians,” 260.

[iv] Schneider and Bos, ”Measuring Stereotypes of Female Politicians,” 260.

[v] Schneider and Bos, ”Measuring Stereotypes of Female Politicians,” 260.

[vi] Nichole M. Bauer, ”Emotional, Sensitive, and Unfit for Office?  Gender Stereytope Activation and Support Female Candidates,” Political Psychology Vol. 36, No. 6 (2015): 691-708.

[vii] Bauer, ”Emotional, Sensitive, and Unfit for Office?” at 693.

[viii] Bauer, ”Emotional, Sensitive, and Unfit for Office?” at 693.

[ix] Bauer, ”Emotional, Sensitive, and Unfit for Office?” at 704.

[x] Bauer, ”Emotional, Sensitive, and Unfit for Office?” at 705.

[xi] Bauer, ”Emotional, Sensitive, and Unfit for Office?” at 705.

[xii] Bauer, ”Emotional, Sensitive, and Unfit for Office?” at 705.

[xiii] Bauer, ”Emotional, Sensitive, and Unfit for Office?” at 705.