Gender Stereotypes, Political Leadership, and Voting Behavior in Tunisia


Alexandra Domike Blackman

Marlette Jackson

Amid the calls for social justice and freedom that rang out after the 2011 overthrow of autocrat Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia, many activists also called for gender equality and increased female political participation. Women’s groups and civil society organizations organized marches in support of women’s rights and lobbied the government and political parties for greater female representation in politics. As a result, in its electoral laws for the national parliament, Tunisia required that each electoral list include 50 percent female candidates and that the order of male and female candidates alternate on the list (called vertical parity or a “zipper” system). After 2014, women made up over one-third of country’s national parliament, the Assembly of the Representatives of the People (ARP).

For the municipal elections in 2018, the Tunisian government went further, requiring that any party competing in more than one district must have a woman as the head of half of party lists in the districts in which it competes (called horizontal parity). While this landmark policy helped increase the percent of women on municipal councils to 47 percent, little is known about how voters in the country view female politicians and their political platforms, particularly in a new democracy like Tunisia.

Previous research in the United States has shown that, despite similar backgrounds, women are consistently ranked lower than their male counterparts, often perceived as being less competent and less powerful. In an effort to explain why women in leadership positions face such challenges, social psychologist Alice Eagly advanced role congruity theory, which posits that positive (negative) evaluations of individuals or groups are based on whether they affirm (defy) societal expectations. While there is evidence that suggests women benefit politically from employing gender congruent strategies in pursuit of government positions (e.g., focusing on gender congruent issues like women’s issues, health, and education) in order to avoid punishment for transgressing gender norms, other scholars find that women employing leadership congruent strategies (e.g., focusing on issues like defense and security) are able to improve potential voters’ perception of their leadership traits by conforming to the social norms typically associated with success in a leadership position.

In this manuscript, we conduct a conjoint and a vignette survey experiment to examine the effects of candidate gender and gender- and leadership-congruent political platforms on voter support in Tunisia. As a new democracy and one of the most progressive countries in the MENA region with regard to women’s rights – both in terms of formal legal institutions and civil society activism – Tunisia represents an important case to test role congruity theory. As Figure 1 indicates, we find evidence that female political candidates face bias related to their gender identity. As we might expect, this bias is concentrated among respondents who express patriarchal values. These respondents are over 7 percentage points less likely to prefer to a female candidate to a male.

Slide1Figure 1: Average Marginal Component Effects (AMCE), YouGov survey (April 2019)

However, female candidates can gain additional political support when they run on a platform that is congruent with leadership roles (e.g., security). Notably, this increase is shared across respondents with gender egalitarian and patriarchal values. The experimental results support an interpretation of role congruity theory in which a preference for a candidate who emphasizes leadership issues is shared broadly, but patriarchal respondents, in particular, express a strong preference for male candidates (Figure 2).

Slide2Figure 2: Vignette results, YouGov survey (April 2019)

As such, our study suggests that female candidates who emphasize issues congruent with stereotypes of political leadership, such as security, can increase voter support, though male candidates also benefit from emphasizing those issues. For this reason, there may be more competition for government positions related to defense and security, and political gatekeepers may assign that work more to male candidates. Indeed, looking at the membership of the special commissions in the Tunisian parliament, we find that women are overrepresented on the Women, Family, Youth, and Elderly commission and underrepresented on the Security and Defense commission (Figure 3). Our article suggests that these politicians working on gender issues may not be rewarded politically for that important public service. These considerations are particularly important as the recent October 2019 legislative elections witnessed a decrease in the number of women in the national parliament from over 30 percent to approximately 25 percent.

Slide3Figure 3: Percentage of female MPs on parliamentary special commissions, 2015-2019.
Note: The dashed line is the overall percentage of women in the Tunisian parliament.

Our research indicates that women in Tunisia still face gender bias from voters, though this is primarily concentrated among voters with patriarchal attitudes. Candidate platforms focused on women’s issues, however, remain broadly unpopular. Accordingly, while gender quotas were an important step in promoting female political representation, a critical way for the government to improve the position of female politicians and candidates is to increase the opportunities for female politicians to serve in leadership positions within the political parties and government that are not stereotypically associated with women. For instance, appointing women to serve on parliamentary committees focused on security or defense may help create a positive association between women and leadership on critical issue areas in the minds of voters.

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Candidate Authenticity: ‘To thine own self be true’


Dieter Stiers

Jac Larner

John Kenny

Sofia Breitenstein

Florence Vallée-Dubois

Michael Lewis-Beck

“Authenticity” has become a prominent buzzword in the lexicon of elections used by political commentators and the media. Political candidates and leaders are judged according to their authentic appeal, with the battle for votes portrayed as a competition between candidates to cultivate the most authentic brand. Its use as a descriptor has been facilitated by the changing media landscape, with candidates able to bypass journalists in presenting themselves to the public directly through social media, thus giving voters the opportunity to judge for themselves whether politicians’ private selves really do match up with their public personas. Nevertheless, empirical political science research – and electoral research more specifically – has yet to provide an investigation into the importance of perceptions of authenticity. With this paper, we aim to start a discussion about the role of authenticity in contemporary politics and in electoral behavior more specifically.

Derived from the Greek auto-hentes, meaning to make or create oneself, we define an authentic politician as someone who – at least appears to – present themselves in their true sense, being transparent about their own views and values, and not deliberately trying to “deceive” voters in thinking that they are different than what they truly are. Authenticity is thus a reliable heuristic for voters: Truly authentic candidates will not suddenly change their opinions in order to gain votes and once elected it is clear which policy goals the candidate will pursue. We stress that authenticity can be regarded as separate from the moral standing of a candidate. A candidate’s values may be popular or unpopular with voters, but what marks them out as authentic is that they consistently represent these values in their actions. Overall, then, we expect that voters will positively evaluate authenticity and hence be more likely to support a candidate they perceive to be authentic.

Given this background, we investigated perceptions of authenticity in six countries spanning different political systems: U.S.A, Wales, Scotland, Denmark, Belgium, and Spain. We designed a novel battery of items that aims at measuring different components of authenticity. We argue that an authentic candidate, in the ideal, is honest, transparent, and consistent, committed to advancing a truth, perhaps boldly so, with conviction. Our survey items reflect these dimensions:

  • On the key issues of the day, we know where Candidate X stands (transparent)
  • Candidate X is not afraid to speak out (bold)
  • Candidate X won’t change his/her opinion just to get votes (consistent)
  • Candidate X says what he/she means (conviction)
  • When candidate X gives a speech, it’s the ‘straight stuff’ (honest)
  • Candidate X’s behaves the same in public as in private (truthful)

Using surveys fielded in each of the six countries listed above, we found that the answers to the different items are correlated, and are associated to one underlying concept. Hence, people seem to hold notions of a politician’s level of authenticity, and this can be detected and measured. Finding evidence for the existence of authenticity as a trait, we continue our investigation by exploring the consequences of authenticity for political choice. We find that individuals who have a more positive appreciation of a candidate also generally perceive this candidate as more authentic. Moreover, perceiving a candidate as being more authentic increases one’s intention of voting for this politician.

Arguing for a new candidate trait of authenticity, we compare it to other traits identified by previous research. While authenticity is logically related to perceptions of traits such as integrity and empathy, we argue that authenticity can be empirically distinguished from these attributes. Although we find that the traits established in the literature (competence, integrity, empathy, and leadership) are associated with authenticity, different analyses confirm that the authenticity items are substantially distinct from the items that underlie these other traits. Finally, when trying to predict vote choice using all of these traits, only the effects of authenticity and leadership withstand the inclusion of party identification as a control variable.

Our results provide strong evidence for authenticity as a distinct and important candidate trait. Authenticity is a concept that can be empirically measured and distinguished from other established traits, and it significantly and strongly adds to explaining electoral behavior. Given the prevalence of the concept of authenticity in contemporary political coverage, we believe that it is important that authenticity is taken into account in studies on electoral behavior, and we hence encourage future studies to include the authenticity battery in their surveys.

Making Votes Count with Internet Voting

Germann1Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

*(A version of this blog is also published by the Democratic Audit UK, an LSE unit.)

Micha Germann, University of Bath


Pundits and political scientists frequently raise concerns about decreasing electoral turnout. However, more frequently overlooked is the fact that even if citizens participate in elections, their votes do not always enter the final tally.

Comparative evidence suggests that between 3% and 5% of votes cast remain uncounted (i.e., are ruled blank or invalid) in the average democratic election. Uncounted votes can reflect the actual will of voters (e.g., a protest vote). But in other cases, votes remain uncounted because voters failed to correctly mark their ballots. These voters wanted to make their voices heard, but they have no influence on electoral outcomes.

Votes can get invalidated for a variety of reasons. Uncertainty about electoral rules can lead voters to vote for more candidates than are allowed under the rules. For example, surprising numbers of U.S. voters cast two votes in presidential elections, one for the presidency and another for the vice-presidency. Especially if there are many races on a ballot, voters may also skip one or more of the races due to oversight.

In a forthcoming article in Political Behavior, I provide new evidence that Internet voting can reduce the number of votes that have to be invalidated due to voter mistakes. Internet voting allows voters to cast their votes remotely over the Internet. It is currently practiced in Estonia and parts of Australia, Canada, and the U.S., among other countries.

Advocates of Internet voting usually point to its potential to increase voter turnout. Voting becomes less burdensome, especially for voters with mobility issues. Young voters are also commonly expected to turn out in larger numbers if Internet voting were made available, though the evidence on this is not clear.

Another possible benefit of Internet voting is that technological fixes preventing voters from making mistakes are easily implemented. Paper ballots remain the most common voting method today. But when equipped with a pen and piece of paper, there is often little standing in the way of voters making avoidable errors. Electronic voting systems can easily prevent errors by, for example, making it impossible cast more votes than are allowed under the rules.

My study suggests that Internet voting can be an effective remedy against “lost votes’’. The evidence comes from the case of Geneva canton, Switzerland. Unusually, Geneva canton has more than 15 years of experience with Internet voting, having first trialed it in 2003. Even more importantly, though, Geneva’s Internet voting trials took the form of a near-natural experiment.

Ever since the very first trials, Geneva has been bound by federal safety legislation that prevented the canton from offering Internet voting to all its citizens. To conform with this legislation, Geneva canton for many years offered the possibility to vote online only in some of its 45 municipalities. In turn, this allows to estimate the effect of Internet voting on voter error rates with a high degree of certainty using a technique called `difference-in-differences’.

The findings suggest that the number of uncounted ballots, measured as a share of all votes cast, was around 0.3 percentage points lower if a municipality offered the possibility to vote online in addition to paper ballots.  This may not seem earth-shattering, and it clearly is not. In additional analyses I also find no evidence that the reduction in error rates affected electoral outcomes. However, Internet voting was far less popular in Geneva canton than one might have assumed.

Germann2Caption: Usage of Internet Voting in Geneva Canton


On average only around 20% of voters made use of online voting where that possibility existed (see the figure). The likely reason is that voters in Geneva could always also submit their votes by mail, which is similarly convenient. Had more voters voted online, Internet voting would likely have caused a much larger dent in voter error rates.

What is more, my findings suggest that Internet voting led to a considerably higher reduction in uncounted ballots in regional measures (-0.5 percentage points). The most likely reason is that Geneva’s Internet voting system asks voters to review their choices before the final submission. In turn, that decreases the chance that voters unintentionally skip regional measures, which are located towards the bottom on ballot papers.

Importantly, all these results refer to referendum votes. Usage of Internet voting in the context of elections has been too sparse in Geneva canton for any robust conclusions. However, there are few reasons to expect that the results would not generalize to elections, which often involve much more complex rules and, consequently, more potential for mistakes.

Overall, then, these are promising results. While some prior studies of electronic voting machines have come to similar conclusions, the results have overall been mixed. The findings of this study are based on an improved research design that allows us to say with increased certainty that Internet voting and electronic voting more generally can reduce avoidable voter mistakes.

Nevertheless, it is important to note that the results of this study cannot, and should not, be read as a blanket recommendation of Internet voting. In particular, that is because Internet voting poses unique challenges for the security of elections which, according to many IT experts, have not yet been satisfactorily resolved. However, assuming adequate solutions can be found, this study suggests that Internet voting can make a valuable contribution to the functioning of democracy by making sure that votes are counted as intended.






Political Scandals, Newspapers, and the Election Cycle

Marcel Garz and Jil Sörensen

Election times are often tough times for politicians. Candidates usually have a full agenda promoting their political program, and often they are closely monitored by the media. Importantly, anecdotal evidence suggests that political scandals could be orchestrated and might more likely be picked up by media outlets right before an election. This is normally bad news for the ones being accused of a transgression, as scandal coverage usually has negative effects on vote shares.

Our study examines the timing of news coverage of political scandals relative to the national election cycle in Germany. We compile an original data set of 794 newspaper articles pertaining to 71 political scandals that occurred between 2005 and 2014 in Germany. We find a positive and highly significant relationship between coverage of government scandals, but not necessarily opposition scandals, and the election cycle. On average, one additional month closer to an election increases the amount of scandal coverage by 1.3%, which accumulates to a difference of 62% between the first and the last month of a four-year election cycle. The figure below illustrates this pattern.


Scandal coverage and the election cycleSorenson

Note: The figure shows values averaged over election cycles. The dashed line represents linear predictions of the data.


In addition, we collect data on the month and year in which the transgression underlying the 71 scandals in our sample took place and calculated how much time elapsed between the occurrence of the transgression and the publication of articles reporting the scandal. Our data indicate that the length of time between transgression and publication significantly increases before an election, which could imply that certain information is “kept in the drawer” until the publication has the biggest impact.

The behavior of the actors involved in the production of scandals – political opponents, media outlets, and investigation authorities – is only partially observable to the researcher since journalists often protect their sources. Thus, we cannot determine who is responsible for the publication delay and the increase in scandal coverage before elections. However, it is possible to shed some light on the motives driving these effects. Political opponents, media outlets, and/or investigation authorities could strategically release information when it inflicts the largest damage on a candidate (i.e., presumably shortly before the election). In that case, the publication delay would be politically motivated, due to the intention to influence voters. It is also possible that media outlets postpone the publication of scandals as a way to maximize profits, because scandals might attract more attention the closer an election becomes. Thus, the publication delay could be driven by business motives, with newspapers trying to increase sales. We provide suggestive evidence that political motives likely dominate business motives in our context.

The effects of hate speech prosecution on voting for anti-immigration parties

Laura Jacobs & Joost van Spanje

University of Amsterdam 

Today, in multiple European societies anti-immigration parties are thriving. The popularity of these parties has, however, sparked controversy due to the rhetoric that is often used by their leaders in which immigrants and other ethnic minorities are often targeted. Following their discourse, several anti-immigration party leaders in Europe have been accused of inciting racial hatred and legal actions against these politicians have been initiated. In several cases, these trials have culminated in the conviction of the prosecuted party leader for hate speech. High-profile cases include Geert Wilders (leader of the Dutch Freedom Party), Jean-Marie Le Pen (former leader of the French Rassemblement National). We define hate speech, following Weber, as ‘all forms of expression which spread, incite, promote or justify hatred based on intolerance’ (Weber, 2009, p. 3).

These cases have raises questions regarding the electoral ramifications of trials for alleged hate speech. This research is grounded in the supposition that legal actions against anti-immigration party leaders may offer an extra explanation of why some anti-immigration parties have been more successful at the ballot box than other. Apart from no effect, two outcomes are possible: legal actions against anti-immigration politicians can either

(1) be an effective device to erode anti-immigration parties’ support

(2) benefit these parties’ electoral success

A recent study by van Spanje and de Vreese (2015) has found that in the Dutch context the decision to prosecute the Party for Freedom (PVV) leader Wilders in 2009 contributed to an electoral lift-off. This effect was, however, only found for voters who are critical of multiculturalism. In this study, we build on this finding and study how exactly the prosecution of anti-immigration politicians affects level of electoral support. For this, we tested a wide set of explanations that may underlie this effect, starting from the literature on voting behavior. More generally, we expected that learning via news media about a decision to legally prosecute an anti-immigration party leader for hate speech would affect voters’ attitudes or voter perceptions of these parties. These aspects would, in turn, influence voting behavior.

We designed a between-subjects web experiment in which we exposed participants to one of several manipulated versions of a television news story about the prosecution of a politician of the Dutch Forum for Democracy (FvD) for hate speech.

So, does exposure to a television news story about hate speech prosecution of an anti-immigration have electoral ramifications? Our experimental findings indicate that exposure to hate speech prosecution does not directly increase or decrease the propensity to vote for an anti-immigration party, not even amongst voters that are critical toward multiculturalism. However, we did find that exposure to hate speech prosecution increased support for free speech and the perceived visibility of the anti-immigration party amongst voters that are supportive of multiculturalism. Perceived visibility and support for free speech are, in turn, positively correlated with the propensity to vote for an anti-immigration party.

Hence, we find confirmation where voters supportive of multiculturalism apply news on hate speech prosecution of FvD when evaluating that party. It seems that hate speech prosecution for these voters seems to boost the perceived visibility of that party, suggesting a priming effect is at work. Moreover, exposure to a news story about hate speech prosecution enhances support for free speech amongst voters who support multiculturalism. It seems that for these voters another core liberal right —freedom of expression— is at stake. Perceived visibility and support for free speech are both predictors of voting for the anti-immigration party. Both effects are visually illustrated in two figures:

Figure 1. Interaction effect on support for free speech.Jacobs1.1

Figure 4. Interaction effect on support for visibility FvD.Jacobs2.1

In conclusion, the evidence cautiously suggests that hate speech prosecution can have unintended consequences via activating attitudes and voter perceptions that are favorable for the party of the prosecuted politician. Hence, the electoral ramifications of exposure to a news story about hate speech prosecution of an anti-immigration party politicians works rather subtly by activating attitudes that are beneficial for anti-immigration parties. These mechanisms warrant future in-depth investigation.






The Limits of Partisan Loyalty

Jonathan Mummolo

Erik Peterson

Sean Westwood

In most national elections in the United States, voters support the candidate that shares their party label. Would this still happen if they disagreed with these co-partisan politicians on important policy issues? An answer to this question is needed to understand whether the public blindly follows party labels or considers candidates based on their policy views. But this is also something that is difficult to answer by observing real-world elections, where polarized candidates generally toe the party line on major issues.

For this reason, we conducted two survey experiments that test the limits of partisan loyalty. In our candidate choice conjoint experiments, respondents evaluated hypothetical political candidates after learning about their party and issue positions. These studies placed partisanship and policy in conflict by using randomization to break familiar links between a candidate’s issue stances and their party label.

Importantly, we used a pre-testing procedure to ensure our studies incorporated a set of both high-salience issues – such as abortion and gun control – as well as lower salience issues – for instance education and bureaucratic spending – allowing us to examine how voters weigh different types of policy considerations against partisanship. This allows our study to move beyond important previous examinations of the role of issue salience and partisanship in public opinion formation (Arceneaux 2008, Nicholson and Hansford 2014, Ciuk and Yost 2016) by considering a broader array of issues and a competitive election settings in which opposing a co-partisan often means supporting a member of the other party.

There are two main findings from our study. First, our experiments show that politicians face a substantial penalty from co-partisan voters when they differ from them on high-salience issues like health care. In the extreme case, in which a candidate disagreed with their co-partisan supporters on four of these high-salience issues, the average co-partisan voter became more likely than not to defect to the other political party.

Second, in contrast on the low-salience issues—some of which concern important public policies like education and trade— candidates receive substantial leeway to do as they please from their co-partisan voters. Here the benefits of a shared party label more than offset the electoral costs of disagreeing with a candidate on four of these issues, allowing politicians to retain substantial amounts of support from their co-partisans, even as they diverged from their policy preferences.

Overall, we find that, while partisan loyalty is strong, it is also conditional. The high rates of co-partisan voting observed in real-world elections are likely a consequence of issue agreement between partisan candidates and voters, not blind partisan loyalty that would occur no matter what positions these candidates took on the issues important to voters. At the same time, our findings regarding lower salience issues suggest that, in many important areas of policy-making that voters do not deem relevant for evaluating candidates, politicians are minimally constrained by public opinion.