A new survey reveals that both women and men prefer female politicians, with men in particular rating female politicians significantly higher than male politicians. The nationally diverse survey included a sample of 1,400 Americans of voting age.

“These results came as a real surprise,” said study co-leader Lindsey Cormack, Ph.D., from Stevens Institute of Technology in New Jersey. “It could signal a backlash given the current political environment, in the sense that there is a rebalancing in favor of women.”

Cormack and political science professor Kristyn Karl, Ph.D., recently unveiled the findings at the American Political Science Association’s annual meeting in Boston.

The survey was distributed by Survey Sampling International, the world’s leading provider of market research, to U.S. citizens aged 18 years or older. The sample was designed to mirror U.S. census benchmarks in terms of gender, age, race and political affiliation.

Survey respondents were presented with articles showing politicians making sorrowful or angry appeals in response to fictitious policy failures or concerns, on topics ranging from education to defense.

The researchers then asked the respondents to score how favorably they viewed the politicians and to evaluate their leadership, competence, intelligence, compassion and sincerity (on a scale from 1 to 4). The gender of the politicians, their appeals, and the issues varied across articles.

The results reveal that both men and women tend to favor female politicians, but men repeatedly rated them significantly higher, regardless of tone or topic they addressed in the article. When broken down into political parties, Democrat men evaluated women politicians significantly more favorably than male politicians. Republican men and women, on the other hand, evaluated men and women politicians similarly.

In addition to the overall preference for women over men in politics, the researchers discovered  that male politicians faced the steepest judgment when communicating in sorrowful and emotional ways about defense issues.

“We expected that women politicians would be viewed negatively for violating gender norms about emotionality but in reality, it was men who were punished most severely,” says Karl.

“While women politicians were not clearly punished for expressing anger or sadness, men politicians who talked about masculine topics such as defense policy in an ‘unmanly’ way — with sadness — faced significantly more negative evaluations.”

As midterm elections approach with an unprecedented number of women candidates running for Congress, some urge caution in evaluating these elections as evidence of a sea change.

Indeed, the “pink wave” is also very blue, as Democrats make up a large share of women candidates this cycle. But instead of attributing success to individual candidates or district conditions, the research suggests that the public may simply be ready for women to lead.

Source: Stevens Institute of Technology