Democratic female leaders viewed as less capable of handling terrorism in times of threat: study

Democratic female leaders are considered less capable of handling terrorism when worry about terror is high, according to a recent study published this February in Political Research Quarterly.

The threat of terrorism has a lasting effect upon the people of the United States and the wider world. Unsurprisingly, this has been shown to influence the choices people make in elections, as people tend to look for strong leaders who are viewed as being capable of dealing with issues of national security.

Research on gender stereotypes has shown that people believe that female politicians are more compassionate and trustworthy, are better able to handle children’s and women’s issues, and are more liberal and democratic. In contrast, male politicians are seen as more assertive, stronger leaders, better able to handle foreign affairs and defense, and more conservative.

Therefore, two important patterns regularly emerge regarding opinions on leadership in times on terrorist threat. Firstly, women tend to be less preferred in leadership roles in times of national security threat. Secondly, research has shown that the Republican Party is perceived as being stronger on leadership qualities and on national security issues.

The study, by Mirya Holman (Tulane University), Jennifer Merolla (University of California), and Elizabeth Zechmeister (Vanderbilt University), used 2 surveys completed by members of the U.S public to test these patterns in combination. Survey 1 asked 1,492 people about worry over terrorist threat and preferences for male versus female leadership. Survey 2 asked 845 respondents to indicate what type of politician they believe is best capable of handling the issue of terrorism: Republican female, Republican male, Democratic female, or Democratic male.

The results of Study 1 revealed that worry about terrorism is positively related to general preferences over male versus female leadership. These findings agree with existing research suggesting that female leaders are disadvantaged in times of national security threat.

Study 2 revealed that when faced with the issue of terrorism, the U.S. public is likely to prefer male Republican leadership, whilst being least likely to want female Democratic leadership.

The findings suggest that Democratic females experience a disadvantage because being male allows the Democratic men to overcome party stereotypes in times of threat. However, these negative gender effects to not appear to impact upon Republican female candidates, suggesting that party can be more important than gender to voter evaluations.

“The Republican female candidate was—all else equal—immune to these negative effects, a result in accord with our assertion that Republican partisanship counters the male stereotype,” the researchers said.

The study provides clear evidence that Democratic female leaders are considered less capable of handling terrorism when worry about terror is high. The findings could be particularly relevant for the 2016 presidential election.

“Our results leave open the notion that there could be other threat contexts, such as an economic downturn or health epidemics, that might be advantageous to women, particularly Democratic women, in their pursuit of political office,” the researchers noted. “In these cases, feminine stereotypes could be activated or deactivated in a way that advantages the Democratic Party and doubly advantages Democratic women.”