Gender Differences in Emotional Reactions to the First 2016 Presidential Debate


HEMPSTEAD, NY – SEPTEMBER 26: Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump (L) speaks as Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton listens during the Presidential Debate at Hofstra University on September 26, 2016 in Hempstead, New York. The first of four debates for the 2016 Election, three Presidential and one Vice Presidential, is moderated by NBC’s Lester Holt. (Photo by Pool/Getty Images)

Kim L. Fridkin, Arizona State University

Sarah Allen Gershon, Georgia State University

Jillian Courey, Arizona State University

Kristina LaPlant, Georgia State University

The first presidential general election debate of 2016 was historic in many ways, featuring two unique candidates and the largest audience in history with just over 84 million viewers. We explore the emotional impact of this widely-viewed debate on viewers in our new article, entitled “Gender Differences in Emotional Reactions to the 2016 Presidential Debates.” As we discuss in our article, research has shown for decades that debates impact how people know and think about presidential candidates. However, we know far less about how men and women respond to the candidates they are exposed to during these events. Given the prominent discussions of gender during the campaign (e.g., Donald Trump’s high-profile comments about women’s appearances, Clinton highlighting her glass-ceiling breaking nomination and fundraising with a so-called “woman card”), we expected that men and women might experience these widely viewed political events differently, and that their reactions to the debate might lead them towards different perceptions of the candidates.

Through the use of a controlled within-subjects experiment, our study allowed us to measure changes in attitudes and responses to the candidates after exposure to the debate. In addition, we examined real-time reaction to the candidates by assessing people’s emotional responses during the debate by utilizing facial expression software. Compared with previous work which relies on subjects’ self-reported emotional responses (often after the debate is over), this facial expression software allowed us to measure emotion without disrupting the debate viewers. Using the data we collected, we examine how men and women responded to candidates’ messaging during the debate and the impact those responses had on how people felt about the candidates after viewing the debate. Other scholarship in the field indicated that women may be more likely to express so-called ‘internalizing’ emotions like sadness and fear, while men are more likely to express ‘externalizing’ emotions like anger, disgust and contempt. We expected to see this pattern in response to the debate, hypothesizing that: (H1) men and women will differ in their emotional reaction to the presidential debate, with men being more likely to show externalizing emotions and women more likely to exhibit internalizing emotions. Largely due to the salience of gender during the campaign, we also hypothesized the impact of emotional responses might be greater on women’s evaluations of the candidates.

Our data indicate that men and women in our study experienced different emotional reactions during the debate, offering some support for our first hypothesis. Women expressed ‘internalizing’ emotions like sadness twice as often as men during the debate. Conversely, men expressed ‘externalizing’ emotions like anger and disgust more often than women throughout the debate. There were also differences in when men and women expressed these emotions. For example, our data indicated that women’s expressions of sadness and men’s expressions of anger increased during periods when Clinton spoke more. During periods when Trump talked more, both men and women were more likely to show contempt, and men’s displays of disgust escalated. We also found support for our second hypothesis, with the data indicating that the impact of emotional expressions were more powerful for women than men in predicting post-debate evaluations of the candidates’ debate performance, particularly in their evaluations of Trump’s performance. For example, as women show more expressions of fear, their ratings of Trump’s performance in the debate decreases significantly, women become substantially more negative in their evaluations of Trump and more positive in their assessments of Clinton. In contrast, as men express more fear, their evaluations of the candidates’ debate performance and changes in their scores on the candidates’ feeling thermometers barely budge.

Overall, we find that emotions matter. Even when we control for other attitudes and identities, emotional responses impacted viewer’s beliefs about the candidates. Second, the nature and political impact of emotions are different for men and women. Men and women have different emotional responses to the debate and these responses differentially influenced their assessments of the candidates. While we caution readers about generalizing from this study since 2016 is a unique election year, we do encourage scholars to continue to explore the role of emotions by employing innovative methods, such as utilizing facial expression software, to monitor people’s reactions to political stimuli so we can better understand how emotions affect people’s views of the political world.



Doron Shultziner, Hadassah Academic College Jerusalem

Yelena Stukalina, Tel Aviv-Yaffo Academic College

One important development in several established democracies over the last twenty years is the notion that “the media” is biased for and against certain politicians and topics. This presupposed bias has been the source of much controversy. It is often mentioned in public debates and exploited by politicians. This paper proposes an empirical approach to explain what partisan media bias is, how it operates, and how to measure it.

We argue that partisan media bias occurs primarily at the organization level, i.e., the impact of the media organization on news content. We discuss the ways that owners, editors and individual journalists impact partisan bias through the shaping on article content and its final physical placement. We also explain how counter factors limit and shape the way that partisan bias finds its expression. These factors include market competition; the context sensitivity of newsworthiness, including time-specific, issue-specific and event-specific considerations; and journalistic norms and ethics.


In terms of our research approach, we argue that partisan media bias is expressed in the way that different news outlets cover the same political story within the same timeframe relative to one another. This approach rests on the assumption that there are professional routines and objective media considerations that guide the work of journalists who come from different ideological backgrounds. Given that these considerations are largely similar for equivalent market competitors, the differences in coverage between such outlets are attributed to pressures and interests on the organizational level.

We present and test several possible measures of partisan media bias: volume bias, front-page bias, page-number bias, size bias, visual bias, opinion spectrum bias, and description bias. We choose a hard test case for the study: the social justice protest movement in Israel, 2011. This story enjoyed high public approval from across the political spectrum. This Occupy movement focused on a widely shared problem of high living expenses, and the protestors distanced themselves from all parties and politicians. It would be arguably more difficult to find partisan bias among general-market newspapers given this wide public support.

We analyze 1,556 news products from the four main newspapers in Israel. We find that Israel Hayom, the pro-Netanyahu newspaper, was an outlier relative to its three market competitors in every measure. Our results also suggest that individual (or single) measures of partisan bias may either not reveal partisan bias or may even yield inaccurate or false results.

We analyzed the relations between the measures and description bias. We found that newspapers appear to prioritize positive and negative articles about the story through their placement on the front-page, the size allotted to each, the attachment of visuals, and in the spectrum of opinions published by each outlet. Following this, we tested the statistical relations between the variables. We find that media outlets account for the variability in description bias (i.e., content) alongside two main mechanisms: front-page bias and size bias.

Our findings suggest that media organizations apply PMB to news production in two ways: 1. by selecting articles according to their content type; 2. by applying editorial discretion to emphasize or downplay articles according to their content. The latter is carried out primarily through decisions about front-page placement and sizing of articles.


The Democratic Consequences of Anti-Immigrant Political Rhetoric: A Mixed Methods Study of Immigrants’ Political Belonging

Kristina Bakkær Simonsen

Anti-immigrant messages take up more and more space on political agendas in many European countries. That immigrants “do not belong”, that they are “a threat to the national community” and that their “integration has failed” are sentiments voiced no longer only by extreme right-wing politicians but also by some mainstream politicians.

How does this rhetoric affect its objects? Are first- and second-generation immigrants aware of the negative messages? Do politicians’ words have the power to affect immigrants’ political belonging, that is, their sense of being included in the national political community? If so, are some groups of immigrant minorities more disposed than other groups to take the negative rhetoric to heart? As damaged political belonging can lead to political apathy and disengagement, it is important to consider the role that politicians may play in shaping immigrant minorities’ sense of political in- or exclusion.

I seek to do so by combining evidence from a case study in Denmark—a context of high salience of anti-immigrant political rhetoric—and a comparative study of contexts with varying salience of negative messages. “Context” is a central word, as I consider political rhetoric not as a stand-alone, one-time message but as an environment that immigrants are embedded in.


The Danish case study shows that immigrant minorities are very aware of negative political rhetoric. In discussions among first- and second-generation immigrants of Middle-Eastern, African and Asian descent (26 participants in total), politicians were mentioned most often as the source upon which participants based their impressions of how immigrants are seen and talked about in Denmark. Participants understood this rhetoric to be problematizing, with a heavy focus on Muslims/Islam, crime, oppression of women, unemployment, terrorism and failed integration. Participants saw politicians as unresponsive to immigrants, they generally had little trust in politicians, and they even expressed that they felt excluded from Danish democracy.


Danish Minister of Foreigners and Integration, Inger Støjberg, celebrating the passing of the 50th clampdown in the area of immigration and immigrant integration policy.

The comparative study relies data from 18 Western European countries over a 12-year period. I use party manifesto data to measure negative political rhetoric and survey data to measure immigrants’ political belonging. Results show that immigrants’ political trust and democratic satisfaction are lower in contexts of anti-immigrant political rhetoric. In particular, Muslim first- and second-generation immigrants are more negatively affected than other religious groups and the non-religious. This resonates with sentiments expressed in the Danish focus groups:

We hear, like all the time; those politicians will fight oppression. And the women, they need equality. But in this way … they oppress us just as much as the powers they want to fight … I’m being talked completely down to, really. I’m not spoken to like a person of equal worth in this society … I’m thinking “well, I’m just as fond of democracy, just as all other Danes”, and I can feel that I, I can’t. I begin to feel that I don’t live in a democratic country, because I’m put in a situation where I can’t control my life. I can’t take responsibility for my own life. Then there are programs for women who are oppressed—and because I wear a scarf I’m also seen as oppressed … Democracy isn’t for me—it’s for the others. (Quote from focus group participant).

Likewise, those with shorter education are more negatively affected than those with longer education. These results suggest a sophisticated processing of contemporary anti-immigrant rhetoric in Europe: Those most in focus respond in the greatest measure with disappointment, frustration and damaged political belonging.

Importantly, the damaging effects of negative political rhetoric do not appear to depend on political awareness, as the comparative study shows no differences across political interest or consumption of political news. This adds to the finding that focus group participants, including those declaring themselves disinterested in politics, shared the conception that politicians make negative statements about immigrants. In other words, political rhetoric—along with its damaging effects—is a context that immigrants are embedded in, irrespective of “self-exposure”.

Racial Isolation Drives Racial Voting: Evidence from the New South Africa

Daniel de Kadt

Melissa L. Sands

Why do voters support parties that are closely aligned with their racial identities? One set of under-explored hypotheses relate to the racial context in which voters reside. Voters’ lived experiences – who they encounter and interact with – may have profound consequences for their politics, preferences, and behaviors.

The case of South Africa, which transitioned to multiparty democracy in 1994 after almost 100 years of state-led segregation under colonial and apartheid rule, provides a unique laboratory for studying such context effects. Under the 1913 Natives Land Act, and subsequent legislation in the 1930s and 1950s, the vast majority of South Africa’s land was reserved for its minority white population. Black African, Coloured, and Indian South Africans were forced into disproportionately small, isolated spaces.

The collapse of apartheid, and the repeal of these segregationist laws, heralded massive shifts in the spatial distribution of different people in South Africa. Previously reserved white areas, especially those in urban and suburban spaces, became demographically mixed to differing degrees. Numerous factors shaped the migratory decisions made by black South Africans; for example, physical geography made certain spaces more likely to experience integration than others.

Given this context, we study whether white South Africans – the demographic minority but socio-economically dominant group – behave differently at the ballot box as a result of the racial contexts in which they live. To do so, we leverage data from a variety of sources. We combine data from South Africa’s final apartheid-era census in 1991 with geographic, census and electoral data from the post-apartheid period. We are thus able to examine how the demographic composition of South African neighborhoods, conditional on apartheid era demographics, is associated with electoral returns for different parties. We then combine a high-resolution cross-sectional survey dataset from South Africa’s Human Sciences Research Council with contemporary census data to test whether individual voting intentions and attitudes are associated with an individual’s demographic context.

Across both datasets we find that white South Africans who live in segregated areas – amongst almost exclusively other whites – are far more likely to support “white parties” like the Democratic Alliance or the Freedom Front Plus, than white voters who do not. Using natural geography as a statistical instrument, a difference-in-differences design, placebo tests using individual measures of racial resentment, and unique data on title deeds transfers for the immediate post-apartheid period, we show that the results are likely causal, and not simply the result of omitted variables bias or residential sorting.

Apartheid ranks among the most profound and disturbing acts of state-led social engineering in history, and our study provides new insights into its long term consequences. There is a great need for empirically rigorous work on the legacies of exclusionary economic and geographic structures. Our paper begins to unpack these consequences, providing insights and avenues for future research, and the newly constructed data sets will provide exciting opportunities for social scientists. Yet the findings have implications outside of South Africa; there are fundamental similarities between apartheid South Africa and many other countries. Racial isolation and segregation remain ubiquitous worldwide, and our study highlights the importance of social diversity in encouraging diverse politics.

How Labor Unions Increase Political Knowledge: Evidence from the United States

David Macdonald

Florida State University | @davidTmacdonald


Do labor unions inform their members? Despite their decline over the past several decades, unions remain an important political actor. Past research has found that unions have important political implications. For instance, union members, particularly those with less income and less education, are much more likely to participate in politics and more likely to turn out to vote. Stronger unions also reduce economic inequality, and lead to more equal representation of citizens by elected officials. Because unions are prominent political actors, it seems plausible that they can also increase their members’ political knowledge as well. However, we lack direct evidence on this relationship.

I argue that unions increase their members’ political knowledge, and that this occurs through two processes. First unions provide their members with direct sources of information through emails, newsletters, direct mail, campaign mobilization, blog posts, and social media. Second, unions reflect a workplace environment in which political discussion is more likely to occur. This means that union members, relative to their non-unionized counterparts are much more likely to be exposed to an information environment that facilitates learning about politics.

To test this, I use data from recent national election surveys, primarily the 2012 American National Election Study (ANES). I show that union members, particularly those without any college education, are significantly more politically knowledgeable than their non-union counterparts. I attribute this to the rich information environment that labor unions provide, and the efforts that they take to provide their members with political information. This helps to reduce the costs of seeking out political information, something that can be quite daunting for people with less formal education.


I used OLS regression to examine the relationship between union membership and political knowledge, across varying levels of educational attainment. Results from Figure 2 show that non-college educated union members are significantly more political knowledgeable than their non-union counterparts. Though the effect size is relatively modest, it is certainly not trivial, as shown in Table 4. Indeed, union membership reduces the “knowledge gap” between people without any college education and those with a college degree by approximately 34 percent. Results also show that this relationship is present in private and public sector unions, in the 1970s and 1980s as well as the 1990s and 2000s, and is stronger in states without right to work (RTW) legislation, where unions are larger, better organized, and more politically active.


This work has important implications. Organized labor has declined dramatically over the past several decades, due in part to economic globalization, but also by the policy decisions made by the federal and state governments. Of all the factors that are correlated with political knowledge, such as: age, education, gender, race, income, and interest in politics, union membership is the only one that can feasibly be influenced by politicians. Policies that weaken labor unions may end up depriving people, particularly those with less formal education, not only of a source of political mobilization, but also an important source of political information.

Partisan Dehumanization in American Politics

Erin C. Cassese, PhD

University of Delaware


Incivility in political discourse isn’t just a matter of insults and attacks – it is a multi-faceted phenomenon. One form that incivility takes is dehumanizing language and political rhetoric. Dehumanization involves the denial of human qualities and characteristics to individuals and groups, perceiving them instead as animalistic, mechanistic, or humanoid rather than fully human. Research in social psychology has linked dehumanization to negative intergroup attitudes and behaviors, including aggression and even violence. For example, research shows that dehumanization of undocumented immigrants and Muslims shapes punitive immigration attitudes and anti-terrorist policies, as well as support for the political leaders who endorse and campaign on these kinds of policies. While these relationships clearly have partisan implications, I wondered whether dehumanization is a distinctively partisan phenomenon; that is, do Americans also share a tendency to dehumanization their political opponents – specifically members of the opposition party?

Anecdotal evidence from political elites and pundits suggests that they might. For instance, Eric Trump said of Congressional Democrats who supported the Mueller probe “I’ve never seen hatred like this, and to me they’re not even people. It’s so, so sad, I mean morality is just gone, morals have flown out the window.” Following the vote to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court, Todd Starnes of Fox News tweeted his thoughts about the Democratic outcry : “Those screaming animals in the Senate gallery should be tasered, handcuffed, and dragged out of the building.” Both of these comments reflect dehumanization in that they expressly deny the humanity of a particular group (in the case of Trump’s comment) or liken the group to non-human creatures (in the case of Starnes’s comment).

Is this kind of thinking primarily an elite phenomenon, or do rank-and-file partisans also dehumanize their political opponents? If they do, what are the consequences for partisan conflict? I address these questions in a forthcoming article at Political Behavior. To explore partisan dehumanization, I conducted two public opinion surveys just prior to the 2016 US presidential race. I found that partisans consistently rate their own party as more human than members of the opposing party – in both subtle and blatant ways. This tendency to dehumanize one’s political opponents was moderated by partisan identity strength, such that strongly-identified partisans more readily dehumanized their political opponents. This result is consistent with prior research showing that perceptual biases associated with partisanship are more pronounced among strongly identified partisans.

Partisan dehumanization was correlated with a preference for increased social distance from the opposing party and also perceptions that the opposing party is more morally distant from one’s own party. Both of these relationships point toward declining interpersonal tolerance and moral disengagement processes, whereby dehumanized people and groups are seen as lesser moral agents and thus less worthy of moral consideration. These results highlight the importance of attributions of humanity for social and political cognition and offer a new direction for research on negative partisanship and political polarization. They also point toward the broader consequences of incivility in political discourse.