The Effects of Partisan Trespassing Across Candidate Sex

Nichole Bauer

 Record-breaking numbers of women are running for political office in the 2018 mid-term elections. Many of these female candidates are Democratic women selling themselves as tough and aggressive fighters—traits conventionally associated with the Republican Party. Take for instance, Amy McGrath. McGrath is a Democratic woman running for a House seat in a conservative district in Kentucky. McGrath announced her candidacy with a video highlighting her military experience, especially her status as the first female Marine to fly in combat missions. McGrath’s campaign message may reflect a partisan trespassing strategy where candidates emphasize issues and traits associated with the opposing political party. The goal of such messages is to expand a candidate’s issue and trait competencies to include qualities of both political parties and to expand a candidate’s base of electoral support to include in-partisan and out-partisans. My article investigates whether female candidates can successfully engage in partisan trespassing strategies.

Trespassing on the issues and traits of the opposing political party is a relatively common campaign strategy among female and male candidates. I argue female candidates will have a more difficult time partisan trespassing for two reasons. First, voters associate both Democratic and Republican female candidates with issues and traits that fit into feminine stereotypes rather than partisan stereotypes. The influence of gender stereotypes means that voters may perceive a trespassing message as a gendered rather than a partisan strategy. Second, voters stereotype Democrats as the more feminine party and Republicans as the more masculine party. The intersection between gender stereotypes and partisan stereotypes can lead voters to evaluate the messages of female and male candidates of the same political party differently.

I conducted three experiments that tracked voter responses to female and male candidates who trespassed on partisan issues or partisan traits. Two of the three experiments presented participants with candidates with whom they shared partisanship. The third experiment varied whether participants saw a trespassing message about a candidate with whom they shared partisanship or who belonged to the opposing political party.

Partisan trespassing messages produce three outcomes. First, both female and male candidates can successfully expand issue and trait competencies to include opposing partisan qualities. Second, trespassing strategies undercut the partisan strengths of both female and male candidates. All candidates end up with a net issue or trait loss. In other words, voters associate trespassing candidates with fewer overall issue and trait competencies compared to when candidates use a partisan consistent message. Third, partisan trespassing messages attract out-partisan support for male candidates but not female candidates. Partisan trespassing messages disproportionately cost female candidates on favorability among both co-partisan and out-partisan voters.

These results show that trespassing strategies are not very helpful for female candidates. Trespassing female candidates will not only have a difficult time securing the support of co-partisan voters, but trespassing messages will not entice out-partisan voters. Voters perceive these messages through the lens of gender rather than partisan stereotypes. These results are particularly consequential in light of the 2018-mid-term elections which feature large numbers of Democratic women running in relatively conservative districts and states, such as Amy McGrath’s candidacy in Kentucky. Many of these candidates are trespassing on Republican issues and traits, but these strategies may not have the intended effect of mobilizing out-partisan support. It is not only Democratic women who lose with partisan trespassing strategies but Republican women do as well. The negative effect of partisan trespassing means that female candidates will have a more difficult time winning state and national offices that require attracting out-partisan support such as Senate races, gubernatorial elections, or the presidency.


The Differential Effects of Actual and Perceived Polarization

Adam M. Enders and Miles T. Armaly

Although there is disagreement over the extent of polarization among the American mass public, especially on matters of policy, a growing body of work shows that individuals perceive a wide gulf between their party and members of the out-party. For example, Americans assume that members of the out-party are farther from them on the liberal-conservative continuum than is actually the case. In other words, people perceive more polarization than actually exists.

A great deal of research examines the individual-level correlates of polarization, as well as the consequences of polarization for political attitudes and behaviors like voting, political participation, and trust in government. Yet, these studies often employ measures of actual polarization — the distance between one’s preferences from those of the out-party, as measured by policy preferences. Our work contributes to our understanding of the effects of polarization by considering how mere perceptions of polarization impact subsequent political attitudes and behaviors, and compares the effects of perceived polarization to actual polarization.

We begin our analysis by constructing individual-level measures of the two types of polarization using American National Election Studies data from 1972-2012. Importantly, these measures are grounded in the individual, which differs from many conceptualizations of polarization. Instead of determining how far apart an individual views the Democrats from the Republicans, we ask how far apart the individual views herself from the party with which she does not identify. We employ these measures to investigate three sets of relationships. First, we explore the individual-level correlates of each variant of polarization. Second, we examine the effects of perceived and actual polarization on orientations toward the government (i.e., trust and efficacy), voting, and participation in the political process. Finally, we ask how the two types of polarization differentially impact affective evaluations of the parties, candidates, and ideological groups.

Congruent with previous research, we find that perceived polarization has risen more sharply than actual polarization over time. We also find that certain political and demographic properties relate to the types of polarization in different ways. For instance, ideological strength is more strongly associated with perceived polarization than actual; elite polarization relates to perceived polarization, but not to actual polarization. Perceived and actual polarization also relate to substantive attitudes and behaviors in different ways. Perceived polarization is more strongly related to self-reported voting, participation, and trust in government than is actual polarization. We even observe countervailing effects of perceived and actual polarization on voting, such that perceived polarization is positively associated with voting, whereas actual polarization is negatively related to voting. Finally, perceived polarization is much more strongly related to animus toward out-party candidates, ideological groups, and the parties than is actual polarization.

Our results suggest that researchers should consider two things when conducting studies regarding polarization. First, whether the correlate or consequence of polarization theoretically relates to actual distances in policy preferences, or perceptions thereof. Second, whether measures of polarization anchored to the individual are more appropriate than differences in aggregate party preferences. Furthermore, our results have broad implications for an increasingly polarized world where politics is a largely emotional enterprise. While Americans don’t actually have great disagreements on matters of policy, such disagreements need not be present to pose a meaningful problem. Rather, the mere perception of political differences is sufficient to enflame disagreements and polarize. When individuals perceive great distances between themselves and the out-party, they feel more loathsome toward out-party members and their representatives, they self-report lower rates of voting, and trust the government less. This perceptual gulf increases with sophistication, strength of attachments to parties, education, and elite polarization — all characteristics that are either fixtures of the political world or normatively desirable. Moreover, perceptions, unlike actual differences in policy preferences, can be incorrect. That misperceptions seem to influence behaviors, orientations, and affect more than actual issues is striking.


The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: Do Attractive Politicians Get a ‘Break’ When They are Involved in Scandals?

Daniel Stockemer and Rodrigo Praino

Researchers often refer to the connection that exists in people’s minds between “beautiful” and “good” as an axiom. Good looking individuals generally obtain various advantages in life.  Just to name a few of these advantages, they more easily make friends, they receive pay premium at their job and they normally advance their careers faster.  In politics, this idea that “beautiful is good” is thousands of years old; the first reference we could find to this way of thinking dates back to Plato’s Lysis. It basically means that attractive politicians receive more votes than unattractive politicians at the ballot box. If “beautiful is good” then, mutatis mutandi, “ugly” must be “bad.” In fact, research does show that ugly politicians do get less votes at the ballot box.

Very similarly, “bad” politicians who get entangled in scandals while in office tend to lose electoral support, at least at the election immediately after the scandal becomes public. This makes perfect sense. If being “good” triggers a reward by voters, than being “bad” must trigger a punishment. The problem is that both attractive and unattractive politicians can act “bad” and end-up involved in a scandal. As a consequence, what happens when the “beautiful” and the “bad” find their expression in the same politician?

In our article, we show that attractive politicians do get a ‘break’ when they are involved in scandals. Using University students as naïve coders in a version of the truth-of-consensus method, we collected original data on the physical attractiveness of every member of the U.S. House of Representatives who has been involved in a public scandal between 1972 and 2012. We used these data to test the moderating influence of physical attractiveness in the relationship between scandal involvement and incumbents’ electoral success. In general, we find that attractive politicians can survive a scandal with very little or no electoral consequences. In the meantime, unattractive politicians tend to be punished more harshly for their transgressions. In more detail, our results indicate that incumbents deemed physically attractive by our coders who choose to run for re-election after a scandal breaks not only tend to get re-elected in large numbers but also tend to suffer very little in terms of total votes received. In other words, it seems that their physical attractiveness somehow protects them from the electoral consequences of being involved in a scandal.

But not all scandals are created equal, and voters do seem to differentiate between different types of scandals. For example, according to our analysis, candidate attractiveness plays the largest positive role in presence of sex scandals. In essence, attractive politicians can easily survive a sex scandal, while unattractive politicians tend to pay a very steep price in terms of votes for their sexual transgressions. In fact, based on our analysis, it seems almost impossible for a very unattractive candidate to recover from a sex scandal. We also find that voters are not willing to forgive financial transgressions, regardless of how a politician looks. In other words, bribery, corruption, misappropriation and misuse of funds are off-limits, even for the most attractive politician. This finding implies there are limits to the ‘breaks’ that attractive individuals receive. In particular, voters, seem to draw a line in the sand when it comes to scandals of financial nature.



Religion and the Extension of Trust

By Paul A. Djupe and Benjamin O. Hsiung

[This is a forthcoming paper at Political Behavior – the full paper can be viewed here.]

Religion has been at the forefront and at the back of social movements, at times castigated for its quiescence and at others lauded for its prophetic voice. Social scientists have long found that religion can provide institutional, attitudinal, and mobilizational bases for collective action, but of course it does not always fulfill those roles. Instead, religious effects are multivocal – they could prop up democratic politics directly, but in many cases do not. Why?

A foundational way to index the democratic role of religion is in terms of the trust that it fosters. Trust in others and trust in governmental processes are arguably necessary conditions for collective action to take place.

So, how does religion influence trust? We believe it would be a mistake to look for an unconditional link of religion to trust; indeed results over time have found a variety of links from some of the same religious tradition measures. Instead, we argue that religion effects on social and political trusts vary depending on the values communicated. These sets of religious values, which we aggregate into religious styles, are the central products in the religious economy. Congregations adopt religious styles in word and deed that range from inclusive (open doors, low boundaries to outsiders, few requirements of insiders) to exclusive (difficult access, high boundaries to nonbelievers, and requirements of believers).

The analogy to trust is clear as these value sets inform people about the potential costs of trust as well as whether making connections is a valued activity. Those congregations that lower boundaries and encourage bridge building also implicitly promote trust in others and institutions – they are engaged in extending the radius of trust. Those congregations that emphasize the presence of evil, the high wages of sin, and religious requirements to be a good person undercut the worth of working with others who are not well known – the radius of trust is short.

Using two datasets, we explore these notions in our forthcoming work in Political Behavior. The first, a cross-sectional dataset of 412 respondents from an online panel helps us assess whether elements of these inclusive and exclusive religious styles are linked to social and political trust judgments. Then we turned to Mechanical Turk to assess the degree to which these styles are flexibly implemented through a priming experiment. Participants were either shown a set of inclusive or exclusive religious style measures before responding to several social and political trust questions.

The results of the experiment, below, highlight that religious effects are dependent on continual communication processes. People need to be reminded of what their worldviews demand of them. Among religious respondents, priming inclusion activates a relationship between adopting religious inclusion and both social and political trust. When not primed, agreement with inclusion has no bearing on social and political trust among the religious. The expected opposite effect results from priming exclusion – religious respondents who adopt an exclusive style drop their social and political trust when primed. There are other distinguishable effects, but we detect nothing systematic.


Figure 1 – Interactive Effects of Experimental Activation of Inclusive and Exclusive Religious Styles on Political and Social Trust (Marginal Effects of Agreeing with the Treatments when Primed, 90% CIs)

Our intent was to highlight that there is little hardcoded in religion that would make democratic societies harder or easier to run. Instead, we should understand religion as a set of intentional communities with a range of religious styles that vary in response to people’s needs in context. People need to be reminded about the content and implications of their worldviews, which after all is the point of weekly sermons. There are other points of contact within congregations bearing on trust that are explored in the paper.

Some clear next steps involve thinking systematically about the social and political environment to understand how people from the same religious tradition can adopt quite different religious styles as a result. This variation should result in different levels of trust and hence collective engagement with society and government. Some of this work has been done in Europe (e.g., Traunmuller 2011), but the US is ripe for this sort of analysis.


Paul A. Djupe, Denison University Political Science, is an affiliated scholar with PRRI, the series editor of Religious Engagement in Democratic Politics (Temple), and co-creator of (see his list of posts here). Further information about his work can be found at his website and on Twitter.

Benjamin O. Hsiung is a 2016 graduate from Denison University where he studied Political Science and Communication. He now works in healthcare analytics at Epic Systems in Verona, Wisconsin.

The Contingent Effects of Candidate Sex on Voter Choice

Yoshikuni Ono and Barry C. Burden

Although women constitute a majority of the American electorate and vote at higher rates than men, women hold only about 20% of seats in Congress and no woman has been elected president. The reasons for the underrepresentation of women are many: differences between men and women in resources, political networks, tolerance for political campaigns, and self-confidence. A nagging question that has been obscured by these factors is whether voters are biased female candidates running for national office. Our study addresses this question directly using experiments to determine if voters prefer a male candidate over a female candidate when other “upstream” differences between the candidates are neutralized.

Real world data make it difficult to determine if voters are biased for or against candidates of different sexes. This is because voters often infer other characteristics of candidates from visible traits such as sex. For example, absent other information, a voter might assume that a candidate who is female is more liberal and shows weaker leadership skills compared to a male counterpart. This is a simple application of broad stereotypes about the differences between men and women. Relying on these inferences, such a voter might disfavor the female candidate not because of sex per se but because of a desire for a candidate who is less liberal or has more leadership skill. If these inferences could be disrupted with additional information, does voters still show biases based on sex?

To distinguish between these kind of stereotype-based decisions and more fundamental biases, we conducted “conjoint” experiments. These experimental designs are often using in marketing studies to determine how consumers respond to different combinations of product attributes. In a similar fashion, we present respondents with opposing candidates who possess different combinations of attributes. In a nationally representative survey fielded in early 2016, we showed respondents pairs of hypothetical candidates for Congress or President. Each candidate had 13 different attributes – things such as age, race, personal style, issue positions, of course sex – randomly selected. But running the experiment many times we could estimate the effect of a candidate’s sex on voting patterns.

We find that the effects of candidate sex are highly contingent in at least two important ways. First, respondents were slightly biased against female candidates running for President (about 2.4% on average) but not against women running for Congress. We theorize that this difference between offices could be due a lack of experience with women in the White House compared to the more regular exposure to female legislators (including a former Speaker of the House). At least some voters appear reluctant to imagine how a woman would behave in an office only held by men. The bias against female presidential candidate might also reflect some residual hesitation about women serving as Commander-in-Chief due to the national security responsibilities that have traditionally been associated with men.

Second, there is a difference in how women fare in primary elections versus general elections. Our experiment provides evidence on this because half of the candidate pairs are from the same party while the other half are from different parties. In the general election setting, self-described Democrats or Republicans show little bias. These individuals instead rely on partisanship as the main decision heuristic as a powerful guide to which candidate is best. In contrast, independents display the largest bias against female candidates; this reflects the absence of party as a form of “insurance” about what a politician would do in office. The situation is different in primary settings, where Republicans and independents both display some bias against female candidates. Our study thus provides some of the first experimental evidence that equivalent male and female candidates get different responses even from the same voters depending on whether other informational cues are available. Candidate sex does not have one effect but many depending on the type of election, characteristic of the voters, and real-world experiences with women in office.

Negative Descriptive Social Norms and Political Action: People Aren’t Acting, So You Should

Hans Hassell And Emily Wyler

You get an email in your inbox: “No one is doing anything about this issue: we need you.” It’s a seemingly desperate call-to-action, a last-ditch plea to join a cause. But do you feel inclined to pitch in, to help out where it seems your fellow citizens don’t bother?

As social animals, we seek normative information when trying to understand how to direct our energies and act in socially-acceptable ways. Political calls-to-action often take advantage of this predilection, to motivate people to act based on a description of what others are doing… or not doing.

It’s that latter flavor of social normative information–the framing that indicates what others are not doing–that we were curious about. Political campaigns and activist organizations sometimes request action from a message recipient by describing the undesirable action (or inaction) of a group and pushing the individual to deviate from that norm by joining the cause. This type of normative framing is contentious, however; previous social behavior research on eliciting political behaviors claims it is an ineffective tactic. The argument is that the only way to truly inspire action is to formulate messaging that highlights a highly popular, successful campaign that could benefit from you joining the herd!

In our article, we challenge the literature’s dismissal of negative descriptive social norms in favor of positive descriptive norms. In fact, mediating factors such as the context, audience, and the underlying motivations to participate may be more important to consider when deciding how to frame call-to-actions in the political sphere.

With an online survey and a separate field experiment, we presented individuals with group-level messaging about community issues that either highlighted a positive descriptive social norm (“lots of people are working on this”) or a negative descriptive social norm (“no one’s doing anything about this”). We saw that those that received the negative descriptive norm messaging were more likely to indicate willingness to sign a petition or write to a policymaker in response to these call-to-action pleas. Respondents also reported higher feelings of anger after reading about what others were failing to do for an issue—and this difference was most notable among those not already active in the political sphere. Someone that has a lower propensity to engage in political activity—perhaps a non-activist—may feel more anger when introduced to the unfamiliar idea that others just don’t care about certain issues, which improves the saliency of the call-to-action in their mind and instigates action.

While behaviors measured by similar research, such as voting, hold a more intrinsic level of incentive, the actions requested in these message campaigns are not as self-serving.  Using negative descriptive social norms may be helpful when trying to drive purposive behaviors, which indicate more of an ability on the part of the individual to influence change for the “greater good” of the community.

In an age that may seem to foster a culture of apathy and disengagement, finding ways to inspire increased levels of participation of individuals in the political process and policy outcome arena is undoubtedly invaluable. Refraining from writing off the potential efficacy of negative social descriptive norms opens doors to a more diverse toolbox that can be accessed by leaders and advocates in efforts to motivate action. Our messaging may need to humbly highlight the failures of the group, rather than just the successes, in order to inspire anger about inaction and drive those that may not be as aware of their own efficacy in creating change, into deviating from the norm and taking action.


Is Sexism for White People? Gender Stereotypes, Race, and the 2016 Presidential Election

Ana Bracic, Mackenzie Israel-Trummel, and Allyson Shortle

“Where women run they win.” This reliable refrain from the gender and politics literature failed to match the results of the 2016 presidential election, and many scholars scrambled to explain Donald Trump’s surprising victory. The Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton is a seasoned public servant and was predicted to win in most polls. Meanwhile, her Republican male opponent had no office-holding experience, and was the focus of a recent scandal involving a leaked tape where Trump bragged about how his celebrity status allowed him to “grab them [women] by the pussy.” His unconventional candidacy made the 2016 electoral returns nothing short of remarkable.

Much of the popular attention to gender in elections focuses on the so-called gender gap between men and women. Since 1980, women have voted for Democratic presidential candidates at higher rates than men. However, this focus on gender identity—men versus women—obscures what we consider a more important gender effect. Namely, how voters think about gender may be more relevant to vote choice than the gender with which voters identify. In the 2016 election, Trump regularly discussed gender in ways that encouraged voters to draw on their beliefs about gender when casting their ballots.

In our article, we argue that gender beliefs, or sexism, worked to shut out the most qualified candidate in 2016. Further, White voters, as members of a dominant group incentivized to support social hierarchies, were the most likely group to apply their sexist attitudes toward their voting behavior. In order to test our claims, we used an original exit poll survey data of over 1,300 voters conducted at 12 precincts in Oklahoma City on Election Day and a post-election national survey of over 10,000 White and Black Americans. Oklahoma City is one of the ten metropolitan areas that most closely match national demographics—age, educational attainment, race, and ethnicity—in the country.  We took advantage of that and selected our precincts based on the racial demography of the neighborhoods.  We conducted the poll in four types of precincts—predominantly Black, predominantly Latino, predominantly White, and racially mixed.  We fielded the election exit survey with the help of 54 undergraduate and 7 graduate students, all from the University of Oklahoma.

We find that while some members of all racial groups endorse sexist stereotypes about women’s lack of fitness for office, White voters are especially likely to apply such beliefs to their support for Trump. Moreover, we find that sexism is not only linked to vote choice, but to how much voters favor Trump. By contrast, there is not a significant association between sexism and favoring Clinton, which supports our contention that sexism was primarily activated in the campaign, not by Clinton’s gender identity, but by Trump’s rhetoric about women.

Interestingly, in the Oklahoma City analysis, we find that White women’s sexism was significantly linked to their vote, whereas there was no relationship for White men (see Figure 1). Among Whites who express the lowest levels of sexism there is no significant difference in vote choice for men and women, although men are more likely to support Trump than women. However, among voters who express the highest levels of sexism, White women are significantly more likely to vote for Trump than White men. Meanwhile, in the national survey, we find that both White voters and Black voters, across gender, link sexism to the vote, although the effect of sexism on vote choice is much larger for Whites than Blacks.

We conclude that beliefs about gender influenced the 2016 presidential election, and that White voters—including women—who believe that women are less competent than men in the political realm, employed sexism in their voting behavior. Men of all races may have held higher overall levels of sexism, but it was White men and women who responded most strongly to sexist campaign rhetoric, to the benefit of the candidate who chose to politicize sexism.