Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Does Hillary Clinton Overcome Gender Stereotypes?

One of the major challenges that women candidates confront when running for office is the way that they are stereotyped by the public. Political science research tends to demonstrate that women candidates are viewed as more compassionate and passive than their male counterparts. These perceptions tend to persist even when women candidates work to portray themselves as tough and aggressive. The problem this may pose for women candidates is that citizens may prefer their politicians have more "masculine" traits, particularly politicians running to be president in a post-9/11 climate.

That is why a recent Pew report stood out so much to me. By this account, Hillary Clinton appears to have overcome gender stereotypes by a wide margin, at least among Democrats. As the figure here shows, two-thirds of Democrats associate Clinton with the personality trait of "tough." This far outpaces any other candidate in either party. And not only has Clinton claimed the "tough" personality trait, but she also seems to not be linked to the traits that women candidates are generally stereotyped with. Only one-third of Democrats associated Clinton with "compassionate," 28% with "down-to-earth," and 22% with "friendly."

Of course, it is not neccessarily a good thing to be "tough" but not also "compassionate" or "down-to-earth." After all, President Bush attempted to soften his image by calling himself a "compassionate conservative" and much of Bill Clinton's success was attributed to his "down-to-earth" personality. It also may not be all that notable that Hillary Clinton has managed to eschew traditional gender stereotypes. After all, people tend to use stereotypes to draw conclusions about candidates they know little about. But Clinton is well-known by the public, so they need not rely on stereotypes when evaluating her. Nevertheless, it may still be significant that Hillary Clinton has managed to project such a "tough" image, as it may make it more difficult for opponents to raise doubts about her.

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