Stereotypes are overgeneralized, often inaccurate, characterizations of a group and its members. Because stereotypes rely on heuristics, they can occur unconsciously and shape behavior in multiple ways. People may stereotype in order to quickly characterize a person or a group of people, or they may be motivated to deliberately stereotype in order to maintain their own self-esteem and sense of self-worth. Stereotypes can undermine many facets of our behavior and beliefs, including how we make political decisions. For example, people who stereotype women as being nurturing and in need of protection may be less inclined to vote for a women running for a leadership position. Because stereotypes are so pervasive and learned early, they can be particularly difficult to reduce or eliminate, and people will often look for evidence to support their attitudes rather than actively challenging the stereotype. However, stereotype reduction is possible and can be done both consciously and unconsciously.
Angela L. Bos, Heather Madonia, and Monica C. Schneider
Stereotypes are a set of beliefs a person holds about the personal attributes of a group of people. The beliefs are commonly held and understood, which allows people to use them as automatic shortcuts when making evaluations and decisions. Because the beliefs are so broadly understood and easily accessible, they can subconsciously influence opinion formation. In the realm of politics, citizens may use stereotypes to guide evaluations of candidates from stereotyped groups (such as African Americans or women) or as they formulate opinions about a policy that may have a particular group as its perceived beneficiary. Because many commonly held stereotypes—such as that African Americans are lazy or violent—are not socially desirable, they pose a challenge to researchers attempting to measure them effectively. Thus, as social scientists examine the effects of stereotypes on citizen decision-making, it is important that they carefully consider how to best measure stereotypes. The goal should be to create reliable (consistent) and valid (accurate) measures that minimize social desirability in responses. Measures should reflect clear understanding of the content of the stereotype under examination and incorporate a full range of content to reflect it. One part of understanding the content of a stereotype is considering whether the group under examination is a subtype or subgroup of a larger stereotype category. For example, female politicians as a group constitute a subtype of the larger stereotyped group, women, where female politicians share little overlap in terms of stereotype content with women. Similarly, Black politicians are a subtype of Blacks, sharing little stereotype content. Male politicians, in contrast, form a subgroup of men, where they share many characteristics with the larger group, men. Stereotype content has implications for the link between stereotypes and evaluations of political actors or public policies. The ability to accurately measure stereotypes is a necessary step in understanding when and how people use stereotypes to navigate the political arena. The intersection of two stereotypes is another important consideration, particularly since the combination of two stereotypes may be more than the sum of its parts. When researchers consider the content of stereotypes, the relationship between one stereotype to others (e.g., subtypes or subgroups), and the intersection of stereotypes, they can create improved measures of stereotypes that optimize reliability and validity. A variety of explicit and implicit measures exist for researchers to consider, including explicit measures, such as semantic differential scales and open- and closed-ended identification of stereotype content, and implicit measures, such as the Implicit Association Test (IAT) and affective attitude measures. Two-step measures can be used to examine stereotype activation and application. While each of these measures has strengths and weaknesses, all are designed to help researchers better measure stereotypes en route to understanding how stereotypes influence peoples’ attitudes and behaviors. Reliable and valid measures of stereotypes—both implicit and explicit—can help us create more accurate understandings of the political world.
Nichole M. Bauer
Women are under-represented at every level of elected office in the United States. As of 2018, women held just under 20% of seats in Congress, 25% of state legislative seats across the country, only six women serve as governor, and, of course, a woman has yet to win the presidency. The political under-representation of women is not unique to the American context. Indeed, women’s under-representation is a feature of other Western Democracies. Even under the leadership of female prime ministers, women hold only 32% of seats in the United Kingdom parliament and 31% of seats in the German parliament. Conventional wisdom suggests that feminine stereotypes may disadvantage female candidates. Feminine stereotypes characterize women as sensitive, emotional, and weak, and these are qualities voters do not traditionally associate with political leadership. Rather, voters associate political leadership with masculine traits such as being tough, aggressive, or assertive. The extent to which voters use these stereotypes in political decision making in the American context is not entirely clear. There are three ways that feminine and masculine stereotypes can affect political decision making: candidate strategies, campaign news coverage, and vote choice decision. The alignment between masculine stereotypes and political leadership frequently pressures female candidates to emphasize masculine qualities over feminine qualities in campaign messages. Motivating these masculine messages is the perception that voters see female candidates as lacking the masculine qualities voters desire in political leaders. Male candidates, because of the alignment between masculinity and leadership roles, do not face this pressure. Female candidates will, however, highlight feminine stereotypes when these strategies will afford them a distinct electoral advantage. The use of masculinity in candidate strategy leads the news media, in turn, to use masculine stereotypes rather than feminine stereotypes in their coverage of both female and male candidates. The ways that candidates and the news media engage with gender stereotypes affects how voters use these concepts to form impressions of female and male candidates. Voters will use feminine stereotypes as heuristics to form impressions of the ideological and issue priorities of female candidates. Feminine stereotypes can hurt the electoral prospects of female candidates, but the negative effect of feminine stereotypes only occurs under a limited set of conditions. Voters will use feminine stereotypes to rate female candidates negatively when female candidates explicitly emphasize feminine qualities, such as being warm or compassionate, in campaign messages. But, voters respond positively to female candidates who emphasize positive masculine qualities. In sum, whether gender stereotypes affect voter decision-making depends on the extent to which voters see messages, either from campaigns or the news media, that reflect femininity or masculinity.
Colleen M. Carpinella and Kerri L. Johnson
The facial appearance of political candidates provides information to voters that can be vital to the impression-formation process. Traditionally, psychological research in the field of appearance-based politics has concentrated on investigating whether politicians’ physical appearance impacts perceptions of them. Recently, the focus has shifted from examining whether facial cues matter for impression formation to determining (1) which facial cues matter for voters’ perceptions of politicians and (2) how such visual cues are utilized within the political decision-making process. This shift in research focus has ushered in an appreciation of facial competence and physical attractiveness, and it has been marked by a renewed interest in studying how gender stereotypes impact the influence of politician appearance on perceptions of male and female politicians. In addition, this renewed interest in studying underlying mechanisms in appearance-based politics has spurred on research that includes a broader range of downstream consequences such as evaluations of leadership potential, voting behavior, and even basic political party affiliation categorizations.
Sofia Calsy and Maria J. D'Agostino
In the public and private sectors, women continue to address multiple hurdles despite diversity and equity initiatives. Women have made tremendous strides in the workforce but are still a minority in leadership positions worldwide in multiple sectors, including nonprofit, corporate, government, medicine, education, military, and religion. In the United States women represent 60% of bachelor’s degrees earned at universities and outpace men in master’s and doctoral programs. However, a significant body of research illustrates that women’s upward mobility has been concentrated in middle management positions. Women hold 52% of all management and professional roles in the U.S. job market, including physicians and attorneys. Yet women fall behind in representation in senior level positions. In the legal profession, for example, women represent 45% of associates but only 22.7% are partners. In medicine, women represent 40% of all physicians and surgeons but only 16% are permanent medical school deans. In academia, women surpass men in doctorates but only 32% are full professors. Furthermore, only 5% of chief executive officers (CEOs) in Fortune 500 companies and 19% of the board members in companies included in Standard & Poor’s (S&P) Composite 1500 Index are women. Progress is even more elusive for women of color despite making up 38.3% of the female civilian labor force. Only two women of color are Fortune 500 CEOs and only 4.7% of women are executive or senior level official managers in S&P 1500 companies. There are more women in leadership positions in the public sector than in the private sector. In 2014, 43.5% of women between the ages of 23 and 34 were managers at public companies, compared to 26% in similar positions in the private sector. In 2018, 127 women were elected to the U.S. Congress and 47 of those serving in 2018 were women of color. In addition, the first Native American woman, first Muslim woman, and Congress’s youngest woman were elected in that year. However, there is still progress to be made to close the gap, especially in senior-level positions. The significance of these statistics is staggering and confirms the need for attention. The percentage of women holding leadership positions in the public and private sectors, especially in business and education, has grown steadily in the past decade. However, subtle barriers like bias and stereotypes unfavorably encumber women’s career progression and are often used to explain the lack of women in leadership positions.
Gary R. Hicks
The public’s perception of, beliefs about, and interest in LGBT individuals and the issues impacting them has long had great significance to the community’s social, political, and legal progress. The last decade has seen monumental changes in public attitudes about LGBT people and the laws that affect them in the United States and around the world. Much of this change has been positive, including the landmark Supreme Court decision to legalize same-sex marriage. In some parts of the world—even those that have witnessed great strides for LGBT equality—there have also been signs of a backlash against the community’s newfound rights and visibility in society. Stereotypes of LGBT individuals, mostly negative, have been responsible for much of this reaction, as well as their historically negative view in by the public. In the 20th and 21st centuries, the mass media has played a major role in creating and perpetuating these stereotypes.
The representativeness heuristic was defined by Kahneman and Tversky as a decision-making shortcut in which people judge probabilities “by the degree to which A is representative of B, that is, by the degree to which A resembles B.” People who use this cognitive shortcut bypass more detailed processing of the likelihood of the event in question but instead focus on what (stereotypic) category it appears to fit and the associations they have about that category. Simply put: If it looks like a duck, it probably is a duck. The representativeness heuristic usually works well and provides valid inferences about likelihood. This is why political scientists saw it as an important part of a solution to an enduring problem in their field: How can people make political decisions when so many studies show they lack even basic knowledge about politics? According to these scholars, voters do not need to be aware of all actions and opinions of a political candidate running for office. To make up their mind on who to vote for, they can rely on cues that represent the performance and issue position of candidates, such as the party they are affiliated with, their ranking in the polls, and whether (for instance) they act/appear presidential. In other words, they need to answer the question: Does this candidate fit my image of a successful president? The resulting low-information rationality provides voters with much confidence in their voting decision, even though they do not know all the details about the history of each candidate. Using heuristics allows relatively uninformed citizens to act as if they were fully informed. Despite this optimistic view of heuristics at their introduction to the discipline, they originated from research showing how heuristic use is accompanied by systematic error. Tversky and Kahneman argue that using the representativeness heuristic leads to an overreliance on similarity to a category and a neglect of prior probability, sample size, and the reliability and validity of the available cue. Kuklinsky and Quirk first warned about the potential effect of these biases in the context of political decision-making. Current research often examines the effects of specific cues/stereotypes, like party, gender, race, class, or more context-specific heuristics like the deservingness heuristic. Another strand of research has started exploring the effect of the representativeness heuristic on decision-making by political elites, rather than voters. Future studies can integrate these findings to work toward a fuller understanding of the effects of the representativeness heuristic in political decision-making, more closely consider individual differences and the effects of different contexts, and map the consequences that related systematic biases might have.
Stephen N. Goggin, Stephanie A. Nail, and Alexander G. Theodoridis
George Washington warned in his farewell address that “the spirit of party ... is inseparable from our nature, having its root in the strongest passions of the human mind.” Indeed, while many factors influence how citizens judge, reason, and make decisions about politics, parties and partisanship play an extraordinarily central role in political cognition. Party and partisanship color how individuals understand the political world in two broad ways. Partisan stereotypes, or how party labels call to mind a host of attributes about people and constituent groups, play an important role in cognition. Second, perhaps even more pronounced in a hyperpolarized political world, is the way in which party influences cognition through partisan identity, or one’s own attachment (or lack thereof) to one of the parties. This connects a party and co-partisans with one’s own self-concept and facilitates an us-versus-them mentality when making political judgments and decisions. Both cognitive pathways are often simultaneously operating and interacting with each other. While we can think about the role of party in terms of stereotypes or identities, the impact of partisanship on actual cognition often involves both, and it can have varied implications for the quality of political decision making. Because partisanship is central to the political world, particularly in democracies, it has been the subject of a variety of lines of inquiry attempting to explain its impact on voters’ decisions.
Erin C. Cassese
Intersectionality is an analytic framework used to study social and political inequality across a wide range of academic disciplines. This framework draws attention to the intersections between various social categories, including race, gender, sexuality, class, and (dis)ability. Scholarship in this area notes that groups at these intersections are often overlooked, and in overlooking them, we fail to see the ways that the power dynamics associated with these categories reinforce one another to create interlocking systems of advantage and disadvantage that extend to social, economic, and political institutions. Representational intersectionality is a specific application of intersectionality concerned with the role that widely shared depictions of groups in popular media and culture play in producing and reinforcing social hierarchy. These representations are the basis for widely held group stereotypes that influence public opinion and voter decision-making. Intersectional stereotypes are the set of stereotypes that occur at the nexus between multiple group categories. Rather than considering stereotypes associated with individual social groups in isolation (e.g., racial stereotypes vs. gender stereotypes), this perspective acknowledges that group-based characteristics must be considered conjointly as mutually constructing categories. What are typically considered “basic” categories, like race and gender, operate jointly in social perception to create distinct compound categories, with stereotype profiles that are not merely additive collections of overlapping stereotypes from each individual category, but rather a specific set of stereotypes that are unique to the compound social group. Intersectional stereotypes in political contexts including campaigns and policy debates have important implications for descriptive representation and material policy outcomes. In this respect, they engage with fundamental themes linked to political and structural inequality.
Ray Block Jr.
Simply defined, stereotypes are commonly-held beliefs about groups of people. Racial stereotypes are the widely shared perceptions that people have about certain social groups and the individuals who are members of those groups. To understand the large and growing literature on racial stereotypes, it is useful to organize this body of research by whether stereotypes are being explored as dependent variables or as independent variables. When the focus is on dependent variables, scholars investigate why racial stereotypes exist and how they work. Conversely, the work on stereotypes as independent variables emphasizes their influence on both attitudinal and behavioral outcomes. Special attention should also be paid to the stereotypes that are often applied to people who exist at the intersections of multiple racial, ethnic, gender, and sexuality groups (for example, those attributed female and nonbinary persons of color).