Negative attitudes toward women played a role in outcome of the 2016 presidential election, according to research by experimental psychologists at Oklahoma State University.
The study, published in the scientific journal Personality and Individual Differences, found that college students who endorsed sexist beliefs about women were more likely to have voted for Republican Donald Trump.
“My research focuses on prejudice and stereotyping and their implications, so this past election cycle provided an opportunity to study sexism-in-action. More specifically, my coauthors and I became interested in this topic after hearing the sexist rhetoric directed toward Hillary Clinton,” explained the study’s corresponding author, Jarrod Bock.
“Undoubtedly, some of the criticisms of Clinton were policy-based and there was the on-going email investigation, but there was also a troubling amount of attacking her as a woman (e.g., temperamentally unfit, shrieking voice, appearance),” he told PsyPost.
“Sexist undertones in questioning the prospects of a woman president are nothing new, such as former Fox News host Bill O’Reilly asking two women on his show, ‘There has got to be some downside to having a woman president, right?’ — but with Clinton being the first woman to represent a major political party, sexist remarks seemed to a little more commonplace.”
The study of 239 undergraduate students found that endorsing hostile sexism and traditional attitudes toward women predicted voting for Trump.
People who agreed with statements such as “women seek to gain power by getting control over men” and “women should worry less about their rights and more about becoming good wives and mothers” were more likely to have voted for Trump.
But that does not necessarily mean that sexism is why Clinton lost the election.
“Our study was only correlational in nature, so we cannot say that sexist attitudes caused individuals to vote for Donald Trump,” Bock explained. “Instead, our data show that individuals with hostile sexist attitudes and more traditional attitudes toward women tended to vote for Donald Trump by a huge majority.”
“Specifically, after controlling for the sex and political party identification of participants, we found that individuals were four-and-a-half times more likely to vote for Trump for each standard deviation increase in hostile sexism. As such, among our sample there were stark differences in the underlying sexist attitudes of Trump and Clinton voters.”
As previous research has found, political party identification was the best predictor of voting behavior.
The study does have some caveats.
“Although we found hostile sexism to be a strong predictor of one having voted for Donald Trump after controlling for participant sex and political party identification, there are a number of other uncontrolled variables that could have affected this relationship (e.g., socioeconomic status, past voting behavior),” Bock said. “Our study was also based on a limited sample of college students from a single university, so the results may lack some generalizability.”
“If a woman from either major political party is nominated to represent their party in future elections, researchers can attempt to replicate this study to determine if our findings represent an isolated case of sexism in voting, or if they represent an underlying opposition of women occupying the Oval Office.”
The researchers starting surveying the students immediately following the election and concluded their data collection three weeks after Trump’s inauguration.
“A lot of psychological research takes place in a lab-based setting leading to speculations of how effects manifest in the real-world, so it was interesting to see how these concepts applied to something outside of the lab, as in voting outcomes,” Bock told PsyPost.
The study, “The role of sexism in voting in the 2016 presidential election“, was also co-authored by Jennifer Byrd-Craven and Melissa Burkley.