Supporters of Donald Trump scored slightly higher on a measure of “modern sexism” in the days after the 2016 election, according to research published in Social Psychological and Personality Science.
The study found that there was a increase in sexist beliefs among Trump supporters — but not among supporters of Hillary Clinton — after his victory, suggesting that a onetime historic event can result in measurable shifts in social attitudes.
“Our research idea emerged in the context of the political campaign leading up to the 2016 presidential election. This was the first presidential contest ever between a man and a woman in the U.S., and gender was thus at the forefront of the campaign’s debates,” said study author Oriane Georgeac, a PhD student at London Business School.
“In contrast with past work in psychology suggesting that social attitudes are rather stable and require much time to shift, we wanted to test whether a one-time, historical event such as the presidential election could change people’s attitudes towards women.”
For their study, the researchers surveyed 1,098 Americans a few days before the election and another 1,192 Americans a few days after the election. The participants shared their views on the prevalence of sexism, the gender pay gap, perceptions of gender inequality, perceptions of gender progress, and perceptions of women in top leadership positions.
“The big takeaway message is that historic events have the power to shape people’s gender attitudes — though not in the same way for everybody. We found no evidence that the 2016 presidential election changed the gender attitudes of Americans as a whole,” Georgeac told PsyPost.
“Instead, we found that the candidate that people supported predicted the change in their gender attitudes post-election. Specifically, Trump (but not Clinton) supporters scored significantly higher on the Modern Sexism Scale after the election.”
People who score high on the Modern Sexism Scale tend to agree with statements such as “It is rare to see women treated in a sexist manner on television” and “Over the past few years, the government and news media have been showing more concern about the treatment of women than is warranted by women’s actual experiences”
“We knew from past work that modern sexism, which captures a subtle form of gender bias (in the form of a denial of the existence of gender discrimination, opposition to women’s demands, and resentment towards women for perceived special favors), predicts other types of more overt bias, such as hostile sexism,” Georgeac explained.
“Consistently, our findings showed that Trump supporters’ higher scores on the Modern Sexism scale post-election in turn predicted their reporting lower concern with the gender pay gap, lower perceptions of discrimination against women but more against men, greater perceptions of progress towards gender equality, and greater perceptions of gender diversity at top levels in the United States.”
“This was not the case for Clinton supporters, whose attitudes remained stable post- versus pre-election. Importantly, these results held after implementing several robustness checks – an important methodological requirement for exploratory studies. All in all, these results suggest that a one-time historical event can affect people’s attitudes, though not homogeneously across political divides,” Georgeac said.
But some questions have been raised about how well the Modern Sexism Scale actually captures sexism, Georgeac noted. “As Tetlock (1994) suggested, a close look at its items suggests that high scores on the Modern Sexism Scale could capture different things: either prejudice against women, or perceptions that women now have access (or have greater access than before) to equal opportunity.”
“The second may not necessarily represent sexism, and could be interpreted as an erroneous cognitive overgeneralization of women’s access to equal opportunity.”
“Beyond the findings reported, we believe that this paper provides an interesting example of how to conduct exploratory findings without compromising on standards of reliability,” Georgeac said.
“Though not replacing the need for replication, the four different robustness checks implemented in this paper (changing the operationalization of the moderator, accounting for potential selection bias with statistical controls and a propensity score matching analysis, and accounting for multiple hypothesis testing) limit the possibility that the findings reported may be just a fluke.”
“We hope future research will start adopting some of these techniques to test the robustness of exploratory findings,” Georgeac concluded.
The study, “An Exploratory Investigation of Americans’ Expression of Gender Bias Before and After the 2016 Presidential Election“, was authored by Oriane A. M. Georgeac, Aneeta Rattan, and Daniel A. Effron.