Media Discrimination and Gender Differences in Political Ambition in a Laboratory Experiment

AuthorAmanda Haraldsson
Published date01 December 2022
Date01 December 2022
Subject MatterArticles
Political Research Quarterly
2022, Vol. 75(4) 11581172
© The Author(s) 2021
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/10659129211046890
Media Discrimination and Gender
Differences in Political Ambition in a
Laboratory Experiment
Amanda Haraldsson
Very littleresearch has consideredhow media discrimination could impact men and womens political ambition. Yet, media
discrimination could impact both beliefs about gender roles and political competence, and beliefs about voter bias, both of
which coulddecrease womens political ambition and increase mens. Alternatively, media discrimination could lead women
to react against discrimination and be motivated politically. This study tests how political ambition of men and women is
impactedby media discrimination in a campaign and electionlab experiment.Media discriminationin this experimentunder-
reports on women and uses traditional, stereotypical depictions of men and women. The results suggest that in certain
conditions, media discrimination in political news may lead to a reactance or positive challenge effect for women, increasing
their political ambition. Men, instead, may feel an aversion to entering politics, lowering their political ambition.
political ambition, media discrimination, laboratory experiment, gender difference, reactance effect
Women in politics are often shown via a gendered lens in
media; for example, female politicians are underreported
on and are more likely to have their political abilities
questioned (Van der Pas and Aaldering 2020). Some
literature suggests this gendered coverage will impact
how voters evaluate women in politics and therefore
decrease the demand for female politicians (Bauer 2015;
Heldman and Wade 2011;Kahn 1992). The results are
ambiguous as other studies f‌ind demand is not impacted
by media (Dolan 2014;Hayes 2011). Yet, almost no
studies have considered whether media depiction of
women could impact the supply side of womens political
It is well established that a gender gap in political
ambition is one signif‌icant cause of womens lower po-
litical representation (Kanthak and Woon 2015;Lawless
and Fox 2010;Moore 2005). Political ambition refers to
the initial interest an individual has in pursuing a political
career (nascent political ambition), which may or may not
eventually lead to taking steps to enter political compe-
tition (expressive political ambition) (Lawless and Fox
2010). The idea that womens lower political ambition
compared to mens is caused by their own def‌iciencies in
conf‌idence or skills has been recently criticised as a
misinterpretation of the political ambition gender gap
(Piscopo 2019). Following this line of thinking, this study
investigates whether there is an inf‌luence of media dis-
crimination on men and womens political ambition,
which could impact the gender gap. Media discrimination
is here def‌ined as the unequal media depiction of indi-
viduals based on (perceived) group belonging.
Some political ambition experts have suggested that
medias depiction of women could play a role in the
gender gap in political ambition (Lawless 2009;Pruysers
and Blais 2017), but only one study has tested this re-
lationship directly: Pruysers, Thomas and Blais (2020)
test how gendered media coverage impacts men and
womens political ambition in an online experiment,
f‌inding that exposure to media that sexualises female
candidates or over-emphasises female candidatesfamily
role does not impact womens political ambition, but
Department of Political and Social Sciences, European University
Institute, Fiesole, FI, Italy
Corresponding Author:
Amanda Haraldsson, Department of Political and Social Sciences,
European University Institute, Via della Badia dei Roccettini, 9, Fiesole,
50014 FI, Italy.

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