Visual Information and Candidate Evaluations: The Influence of Feminine and Masculine Images on Support for Female Candidates

Date01 June 2018
AuthorNichole M. Bauer,Colleen Carpinella
Published date01 June 2018
Subject MatterArticles
Political Research Quarterly
2018, Vol. 71(2) 395 –407
© 2017 University of Utah
Reprints and permissions:
DOI: 10.1177/1065912917738579
Hillary Clinton strategically emphasized her status as the
first female nominee for the presidency by handing out
actual “gender cards” to supporters, mobilizing networks
of female supporters, and frequently appearing in a white
business suit—invoking the white attire worn by early
twentieth-century suffragettes. These visual representa-
tions of Clinton connect to broader stereotypes about
women, which, for many voters, do not reflect desirable
qualities in political leaders (Bauer 2015; Holman,
Merolla, and Zechmeister 2016). Pundits and scholars
alike debate the extent to which Clinton’s female-focused
campaign contributed to her electoral loss, and this debate
reflects a broader tension in the literature about whether
female candidates face bias among voters (Brooks 2013;
Ditonto 2017; Dolan 2014; Hayes and Lawless 2016; Mo
2015; Schneider and Bos 2014). We investigate how
visuals representing feminine or masculine stereotypes
affect how voters form impressions of female and male
political candidates.
Campaigns frequently use visuals to frame a candidate
as having compassion or strength (Dittmar 2015; Grabe
and Bucy 2009; Herrick 2016)—concepts that tie back to
feminine and masculine stereotypes. Visual information,
in the form of candidate appearance or nonverbal behav-
ior, affects how voters evaluate the fitness and ability of
female candidates (Carpinella et al. 2016; Carpinella and
Jonhnson 2013; Everitt, Best, and Gaudent 2016; Hehman
et al. 2014). Few studies investigate how visual informa-
tion, presented through campaign websites, fliers, or tele-
vision ads, affects how voters evaluate female candidates.
This is a critical omission. Visuals are primary informa-
tional channels for voter learning (Graber 1990; Paivio
1979; Shea and Burton 2001). Campaigns strategically
use visuals to shape the impressions voters form of politi-
cal candidates (Carpinella and Johnson 2016; Schill
2012), and much of the information voters receive about
candidates comes from visual mediums (Druckman,
Kifer, and Parkin 2009; Grabe and Bucy 2009; Sapiro
et al. 2011). Thus, visual information that aligns with
feminine or masculine stereotypes may affect the success
of female candidates.
738579PRQXXX10.1177/1065912917738579Political Research QuarterlyBauer and Carpinella
1Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, USA
2University of California, Los Angeles, USA
Corresponding Author:
Nichole M. Bauer, Political Science Department, Manship School of
Mass Communication, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge,
Visual Information and Candidate
Evaluations: The Influence of Feminine
and Masculine Images on Support for
Female Candidates
Nichole M. Bauer1 and Colleen Carpinella2
Existing research debates the extent to which feminine and masculine stereotypes affect voters’ impressions of
female candidates. Current approaches identify how descriptions of female candidates as having feminine or masculine
qualities lead voters to rely on stereotypes. We argue that extant scholarship overlooks a critical source of stereotypic
information about female candidates—the role of visual information. This manuscript explores the conditions under
which voters use feminine and masculine visuals to evaluate female candidates. Drawing on theories of information
processing and stereotype reliance, we develop a framework that explains when visual information will affect how
voters evaluate female and male candidates. We argue that visual information that is incongruent with stereotypes
about a candidate’s sex will affect candidate evaluations while visuals congruent with stereotypes about candidate
sex will not. We test these dynamics with an original survey experiment. We find that gender incongruent masculine
visuals negatively affect evaluations of a female candidate’s issue competencies and electoral viability.
gender stereotypes, campaigns, gender bias, visual communication

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