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.
Face Value: Facial Appearance and Assessments of Politicians
Colleen M. Carpinella and Kerri L. Johnson
Gender Stereotyping in Political Decision Making
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.
Stereotype Measurement in Political Decision Making
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.
Attitudes Toward LGB Families: International Policies and LGB Family Planning
Pedro Alexandre Costa
According to recent U.S. census data, there are over 700,000 same-gender couples, of which 114,00 have children. U.K. census data further revealed over 200,000 same-gender parented families, and there is evidence that these numbers have been increasing in the last few decades. Between the late 1980s and early 1990s, research on the psychosocial well-being of LGB families was established with a focus on the potential impact of parents’ sexual orientation on the psychological adjustment of their children. Interest in LGB families was evidenced by the growing political and public attention, and became a central issue within the LGBT+ movement across the Western world, especially in Europe and the United States. However, attitudes toward LGB family policies have not evolved in a linear fashion insofar as they have accompanied the constant back and forth in LGB family policies and legislation. Negative attitudes toward LGB family policies are rooted in the negative evaluations of LGB individuals based on beliefs that LGB people are less fit as parents or unable to form and sustain healthy relationships because of their sexual or gender identity. However, these negative beliefs differ according to heterosexual individuals’ characteristics. Research has shown that men, older, less educated, non-White, politically conservative, highly religious, and authoritarian, as well as those who believe that homosexuality is controllable, strictly adhere to traditional gender roles and authorities, and do not have frequent or close contact with LGB individuals, hold higher levels of sexual prejudice toward LGB individuals and LGB family policies. As of January 2020, same-gender marriage and parenthood are recognized in around 30 countries worldwide, although some countries recognize some forms of same-gender unions, but not marriage, whereas others recognize the right of LGB individuals to have children but not to marry. LGB family policies have progressed mostly through two different pathways: (a) the judicial pathway, which has involved litigation and court rulings on specific matters related to same-gender relationships and parenthood and which was undertaken in the United States, and (b) the legislative pathway, which has relied on political discussion and policy initiatives and was undertaken in the Iberian Peninsula (Portugal and Spain). The different pathways to equality in LGB family policies have different impacts for LGB individuals. In particular, the constant negative messages regarding same-gender couples as being unable to have healthy relationships have been shown to contribute to chronic minority stress and psychological distress among LGB individuals. By contrast, the legalization of same-gender marriage and parenthood provide important benefits and protections for LGB families in addition to promoting their well-being. Examining the evolution of attitudes and legislation regarding LGB family policies is important to inform further initiatives aimed at correcting inequalities for LGB families.
Attitudes Toward Women and the Influence of Gender on Political Decision Making
There is a great deal of research, spanning social psychology, sociology, and political science, on politically relevant attitudes toward women and the influence of gender on individual’s political decision making. First, there are several measures of attitudes toward women, including measures of sexism and gender role attitudes, such as the Attitudes Toward Women Scale, the Old-Fashioned Sexism Scale, the Modern Sexism Scale, and the Ambivalent Sexism Inventory. There are advantages and disadvantages of these existing measures. Moreover, there are important correlates and consequences of these attitudes. Correlates include education level and the labor force participation of one’s mother or spouse. The consequences of sexist and non-egalitarian gender role attitudes include negative evaluations of female candidates for political office and lower levels of gender equality at the state level. Understanding the sources and effects of attitudes toward women is relevant to public policy and electoral scholars. Second, gender appears to have a strong effect on shaping men’s and women’s attitudes and political decisions. Gender differences in public opinion consistently arise across several issue areas, and there are consistent gender differences in vote choice and party identification. Various issues produce gender gaps, including the domestic and international use of force, compassion issues such as social welfare spending, equal rights, and government spending more broadly. Women are consistently more liberal on all of these policies. On average, women are more likely than men to vote for a Democratic Party candidate and identify as a Democrat. There is also a great deal of research investigating various origins of these gender differences. Comprehending when and why gender differences in political decision making emerge is important to policymakers, politicians, the political parties, and scholars.
Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity, and Political Decision Making
Ewa A. Golebiowska
Public opinion on LGBT Americans’ rights has become more supportive of equal treatment over time. The movement toward greater egalitarianism has been particularly pronounced on attitudes toward same-sex marriage and gay adoption. Today, the general public is overwhelmingly supportive of laws to protect gays and lesbians against job discrimination, the right of gay and lesbian couples to adopt children, and legal recognition of same-sex marriages. It is also overwhelmingly supportive of legal protections for gay and lesbian employees, although we do not know whether abstract support for equality in the workplace translates into support for the hiring of gays and lesbians in all occupations. Yet, many questions concerning LGBT Americans’ rights remain controversial. The general public is especially polarized on the questions of whether transgender individuals should be able to use the bathrooms of the gender with which they identify and whether business owners in the wedding services industry can discriminate against same-sex couples on religious grounds. Systematic research on political attitudes of LGBT individuals using probability samples is practically nonexistent, although there are many studies of lesbians, gays, and bisexuals’ attitudes, identities, and behavior that use convenience samples. The existing studies demonstrate that lesbians, gay men, and bisexuals tend to identify as ideologically liberal and favor the Democratic Party in their affinities and votes. LGBT Americans are far more supportive of equality in all issue domains although bisexuals—compared to lesbians and gay men—are more lukewarm in their embrace of equality on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Scholarship on LGBT Americans in public opinion has primarily explored attitudes toward gays and lesbians and has tended to focus on attitudes toward same-sex marriage and adoption. It examines psychological, political, and demographic correlates of public opinion regarding LGBT individuals and explores links between interpersonal contact with LGBT individuals and attitudes toward them. Generally speaking, moral traditionalism, gender role conceptions, and attributions for the existence of homosexuality are especially important psychological predictors of attitudes toward sexual and gender identity minorities. Partisan and ideological identities play an important role too as do cues from ideologically compatible political elites. Of the several demographic attributes that researchers have included in their models, religion-related variables stand out for their predictive prowess. Finally, interpersonal contact with sexual and gender minorities, as well as community exposure to LGBT individuals, is associated with more favorable views toward them. Another yardstick by which commitment to equal treatment for LGBT Americans could be measured is whether and how sexual orientation and gender identity influence political fortunes of candidates for electoral office. Scholarship to date suggests that sexual orientation and gender identity function as important heuristics that influence voters’ thinking about LGBT candidacies. Some scholarship mines survey questions that inquire about respondents’ willingness to support hypothetical LGBT candidates for office. Others use experimental design to isolate the influences of sexual orientation and gender identity on political evaluation. Altogether, these studies demonstrate that LGBT individuals do not face a level playing field when they launch campaigns for office.