A Few Good Women: Veteran Status and Candidate Evaluation in U.S. Elections
How do voters react to female candidates with former military service? Research in political science and social psychology has long showed that women are assumed by voters to lack leadership traits and are assumed to have less expertise on issues of national defense and foreign policy (Alexander and Andersen, 1993, Glick and Fiske 1996, Schneider and Bos 2014, Huddy and Terkildsen 1993, Lawless 2004). These assumptions are rooted in stereotypes of women, and female candidates specifically, and may disadvantage them from achieving political leadership. Yet, women who have military experience and veteran status may be able to use this background to overcome stereotypes about female candidates lacking leadership traits. However, it is also possible that the benefit of veteran status is that it sends a signal to some voters that the candidate will advocate for issues that are important to them. Thus, I expect that female candidates with military experience will be perceived as either being more qualified for office because of the leadership traits associated with military experience or will be viewed as more aligned with voters’ issue preferences. If either scenario is correct, the candidate should benefit electorally. I also expect military experience to be more beneficial for women than men, who are stereotypically thought to have leadership qualities by default. I test these expectations with a 2x2 factorial experimental design – varying gender and veteran status - in which respondents will be presented with a vignette about a hypothetical candidate and then asked to evaluate those candidates on a number of measures.
Combatting Stereotypes: Veteran Women Winning Election
In the US, veteran status is often assumed to be a boon for candidates on the campaign trail. Yet there is a surprising dearth of large-N studies of the effect of veteran status in elections and none that has specifically examined how veteran status and gender interact. What the scant research in this area does suggest is that the effect of veteran status is highly contextual and dependent on a number of factors (Teigen 2008 and 2013; McDermott and Panagopolous, 2015). I argue that while veteran status might not confer a blanket benefit across all candidates at the last stage of the electoral cycle, differences should emerge based on party and gender, as well as the election stage. Importantly, I argue that veteran status should have the largest effect before and during the primary election, where I expect that veteran status will increase the probability that a woman candidate is recruited by her party to run. I test these expectations with an original dataset of the 2018 general and primary elections for U.S. Congress in all 50 states.
Mothers on the Run: Ambivalent Sexism, Stereotypes, and Candidate Evaluation
Research has provided ample evidence for the idea that women candidates benefit electorally from focusing on masculine issues and asserting their masculine traits as bona fides of their leadership potential while playing down their more feminine qualities (Kahn 1996, Fridkin and Kenney 2015). Yet, we now see a rise in female candidates highlighting feminine qualities, specifically their roles as mothers (Zernike 2018). Does this strategy work? Previous research has indicated that women do not benefit electorally from having children, but their evaluations may also suffer if they do not have children (Stalsburg 2010). In this experiment, I argue that how voters react to candidates who are mothers should be determined by the voter's belief in traditional gender roles, measured here with the Ambivalent Sexism Inventory. To test these claims, I measure subjects’ levels of sexism and then employ a simple vignette experiment, varying the candidate's parental status and age of the children. After reviewing the vignette, subjects rate their randomly assigned candidate on measures of competence, warmth, and a measure of electoral support.