The Price of Power: Power Seeking and Backlash Against Female Politicians

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March 27, 2017

The Price of Power: Power Seeking and Backlash Against Female Politicians

In an effort to address the persistent gender gap at the highest levels of political office, this study investigates one of the stereotype-based social costs that women face as political candidates. Because power and power-seeking are central to the way masculinity is socially constructed and communality is central to the construction of femininity, intentionally seeking power is broadly seen as anti-communal and inconsistent with the societal rules for women’s behavior. The study aims to determine whether women political candidates who are seen to be seeking a political office as a means to gain power will be penalized for their seeming lack of communality. More specifically, the authors suggest that women’s power-seeking will evoke emotional reactions of contempt and disgust and therefore voters will be less likely to support their candidacy.

Findings

  • Voters are less likely to vote for female politicians when they perceive them as power-seeking, though male politicians are not penalized.
  • All things being equal, study participants were likely to perceive female politicians as being just about equally power-seeking as male politicians.
  • When participants saw male politicians as power-seeking, they also saw them as having greater agency (i.e., being more assertive, stronger, and tougher) and greater competence, while this was not true for their perceptions of power-seeking female politicians. 
  • When participants saw female politicians as power-seeking, they also saw them as having less communality (i.e., being unsupportive and uncaring), while this was not true for their perceptions of power-seeking male politicians.
  • When female politicians were described as power-seeking, participants experienced feelings of moral outrage (i.e., contempt, anger, and/or disgust) towards them.
  • Participant gender had no impact on any of the study outcomes – that is, women were just as likely as men to have negative reactions to power-seeking female politicians.
  • In short, both a power-seeking image and expressed power-seeking intent can bias voters against female politicians.

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Resource type: 
Author: 
Tyler G. Okimoto Victoria L. Brescoll
Editor: 
Vol 36, Issue 7, 2010
Publisher: 
Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin
Publication year: 
First Published June 2, 2010
Focus areas: