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Gender, candidate image and electoral preference

Johns, R.A. and Shephard, M.P. (2007) Gender, candidate image and electoral preference. British Journal of Politics and International Relations, 9 (3). pp. 434-460. ISSN 1369-1481

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Studies show that voters make judgements about politicians - their competence, honesty, warmth and so on - on the basis of physical appearance, and that these judgements can influence voting behaviour. This raises the possibility of two different gender gaps: (i) female and male candidates may be evaluated differently, ultimately affecting their relative electoral performance; and (ii) female and male voters may react differently to candidate images. We explore this using a stacked data set of evaluations of 36 UK MPs by 368 undergraduate students, and find evidence of both gender gaps. First, we confirm the persistent finding that voters assign 'warmth' traits to female and 'strength' traits to male candidates. Such stereotyping has an interesting impact on electoral preference: male candidates were judged more by warmth, female candidates more by strength, suggesting that stereotypical traits were taken for granted. Second, we find male voters more likely than female voters to see male candidates as stronger, and to prioritise strength in voting. Our results also support the view that gender and appearance heuristics are relied on most by those with little other basis for judgement, such as non-partisans. Hence, while gender effects on voting are weak when averaged across the whole electorate, they could be much stronger for (expanding) sub-groups of voters.