HOBOKEN, N.J. — Midterm elections are just around the corner, and so could a potential turn of the tide in American politics, at least when it comes to gender. A record number of women are running for Congress, and there may never be a better time for such a breakthrough: a new study finds that both men and women prefer favor female politicians over males.
The survey of 1,400 American men and women over 18, conducted by researchers from the Stevens Institute of Technology, presented participants with fictitious articles featuring a diverse set of politicians making emotionally-charged statements relating to various hot-button issues. Participants, who varied in age, race and political affiliation, rated the favorability of the politicians and were asked to grade them on five areas: leadership, competence, intelligence, compassion and sincerity.
Researchers were taken aback by the results. Participants typically preferred female politicians over men when it came to the evaluations, with men consistently ranking the women significantly higher.
“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 study co-author Kristyn Karl, a political science professor, in a release. “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.”
“These results came as a real surprise,” notes co-author Lindsey Cormack. “It could signal a backlash given the current political environment, in the sense that there is a rebalancing in favor of women.”
Still, researchers note that many of the women vying for office are Democratic candidates, so a so-called “pink wave” may rely heavily on the makeup of voting districts.
Either way, November is shaping up to be a potentially pivotal month for American politics.