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Smashing the Glass Ceiling? Biased Views of Uncivil Male and Female Candidates

Sat, August 31, 2:00 to 3:30pm, Marriott, Virginia C


Politicians increasingly use uncivil, aggressive, and, at times, violent tactics to appeal to voters. Aggressive language can mobilize hostile parts of a candidate’s electoral base of support (Kalmoe 2017) but uncivil displays also leave other voters feeling disengaged and distrustful of government (Mutz 2015). Much of the current body of research focuses on the overall effects of uncivil and aggressive behavior in politics, but we focus our research on who can get away with incivility in politics—evaluative differences that depend on candidate traits. Here, we investigate whether candidate sex affects how individuals respond to political candidates who display incivility during a political debate, including verbal aggression with a physical dominance display. Using a series of original survey experiments, we identify three novel findings. First, we show individuals respond differently to incivility from female versus male political candidates. Second, voters’ reaction to incivility by a male candidate differs when their opponent is a woman versus a man. Third, we find individual differences in reactions to incivility based on audience traits. Individuals who exhibit a tendency toward aggression are much less likely to punish female candidates for incivility compared to those with a low tolerance for aggression. Our research builds on scholarship showing that female politicians cannot engage in the same types of behaviors and strategies available to their male counterparts due to conventional feminine stereotypes (Krupnikov and Bauer 2014). Ultimately, our research uncovers the barriers limiting the full representation of women in democratic governments. Female candidates must campaign differently from male candidates and this limits their ability to win elections and ascend to other positions of political leadership.


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