In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Gender Stereotypes in Politics

  • Introduction
  • Foundational Works
  • General Overviews
  • Gender Stereotypes Related to Political Leadership
  • Politics and Political Roles are Perceived as Masculine
  • Candidate Strategy and Stereotypes
  • Stereotype Measurement, Models, and Activation
  • Stereotyping and Contexts
  • Gender Stereotypes in the Media

Political Science Gender Stereotypes in Politics
Angela L. Bos, Kiley Kinnard
  • LAST REVIEWED: 15 January 2020
  • LAST MODIFIED: 15 January 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756223-0291


Over the past thirty years, scholars have explored the myriad ways that gender stereotypes may explain the dearth of women in elected office in the United States. That is, do stereotypes about women and men affect the ability of women to seek and attain political leadership roles? Early research demonstrated that female and male politicians were viewed differently, along the lines of gender stereotypes, with regard to their traits, beliefs, or ideology and the issues they were perceived as competent to handle. Because politics is a masculine domain, this presents challenges to and for women seeking political leadership roles and elected office. A large portion of the work on gender stereotypes explores how they shape voter choices in elections, as well as how female candidates anticipate and change their campaign strategies relative to stereotypes. Numerous observational studies of elections have not connected gender stereotypes and voter choice and often demonstrate the overwhelming impact of party identification. However, experimental and observational research on gender stereotypes more precisely identifies the mechanisms by which—and the contexts in which—gender stereotypes may influence candidate evaluations and vote choice. Gender stereotypes shape candidate recruitment and characterize voter impressions of the Republican and Democratic political parties in the United States. Research on stereotype activation, stereotype threat, and measurement has fruitfully been imported from social psychology to understand and explain gender stereotyping in politics. In addition, gender politics scholars have worked to explore the intersection of gender stereotypes with other group stereotypes relevant in politics such as race, class, ethnicity, and sexual orientation. Finally, a blossoming research area identifies various contexts in which gender stereotypes may hinder—or propel— women as political leaders. Media coverage of political campaigns—particularly coverage of female candidates for office—continues to reflect gender stereotypes, although coverage has improved over time and is shaped by a broader set of relevant factors such as partisanship and incumbency. In all, gender stereotypes have been and will continue to be an important area to explore in seeking to understand women’s descriptive underrepresentation in political office.

Foundational Works

Huddy and Terkildsen 1993 is an early, oft-cited work that laid the groundwork for future research on gender stereotypes and women’s candidacies for political office. Similarly, Kahn 1996 is a seminal book in this area that lays out important questions and methodologies for the field.

  • Huddy, Leonie, and Nayda Terkildsen. “Gender Stereotypes and the Perception of Male and Female Candidates.” American Journal of Political Science 37.1 (1993): 119–147.

    DOI: 10.2307/2111526

    Applies issue ownership theory to gender. Female candidates are seen as being better equipped to deal with “compassion” issues, such as women’s issues, education, health care, social welfare, and civil liberties and equality; men are viewed as better on issues such as military and defense, foreign policy, and the economy.

  • Kahn, Kim Fridkin. The Political Consequences of Being a Woman: How Stereotypes Influence the Conduct and Consequences of Political Campaigns. New York: Columbia University Press, 1996.

    Examines how stereotypes of gender and sex roles affect women candidates’ strategies and successes when running for office.

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