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Journal of Women, Politics & Policy

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A Woman for U.S. President? Gender and


Leadership Traits Before and After 9/11

Susan B. Hansen & Laura Wills Otero

To cite this article: Susan B. Hansen & Laura Wills Otero (2006) A Woman for U.S. President?
Gender and Leadership Traits Before and After 9/11, Journal of Women, Politics & Policy, 28:1,
35-60, DOI: 10.1300/J501v28n01_03

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A Woman for U.S. President?
Gender and Leadership Traits
Before and After 9/11
Susan B. Hansen, University of Pittsburgh
Laura Wills Otero, University of Pittsburgh

ABSTRACT. A public agenda focused on terrorism and war may have


added to voters doubts about womens leadership, but popular support
for electing a woman has rebounded since 2001-2003. An analysis of
candidates traits using American National Election Studies (ANES) sur-
veys found that the strong leader cue actually became less rather than
more important as a predictor of the presidential vote in 2004 than in
2000. The trait candidate cares about you was significantly more impor-
tant in 2004 than in many previous election years, especially for women.
Women politicians who can prove their toughness or their skills at cri-
sis management may have an advantage with voters (especially women
voters) if they can take advantage of their perceived edge in compassion.
doi:10.1300/J501v28n01_03 [Article copies available for a fee from The
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2006 by The Haworth Press, Inc. All rights reserved.]

KEYWORDS. Woman president, leadership, candidate traits

Did the trend of electoral gains for women in the United States come
to an abrupt end on September 11, 2001? With the country suddenly
focused on war preparedness, the once bright prospects for women seek-
ing elective office dimmed. Some women dropped out; others saw their

Journal of Women, Politics & Policy, Vol. 28(1) 2006


Available online at http://jwpp.haworthpress.com
2006 by The Haworth Press, Inc. All rights reserved.
doi:10.1300/J501v28n01_03 35
36 JOURNAL OF WOMEN, POLITICS & POLICY

chances diminish in the polls. . . . Women had to face the hard reality
that voters may not trust them to lead the country in a time of war (Clift
and Brazaitis 2003, ix). Women (and probably men as well) who were
not perceived as sufficiently tough on national security issues were
likely to face opposition from party leaders as well as many voters.
Even before 9/11, several cultural and institutional factors made it
unlikely for a woman to be elected President (and thus Commander-
in-Chief). Recent trends in public opinion, media coverage, and the pro-
portion of women holding public office might have suggested that
the odds of electing women were improving. But as Bystrom, Banwart,
Kaid, and Robertson (2004, 219) argue, An increased concern with
military and defense matters would seem to put female candidates at
a disadvantage, particularly in races with national import. Lawless
(2004), likewise, concludes that women seeking public office face new
obstacles after 9/11 because of gender stereotyping of women as less
competent to address issues of national security.
This article considers several factors that could influence womens
chances of gaining the presidency and mitigating the impact of 9/11. We
first review trends in public opinion concerning support for a woman for
president, which by 2006 have rebounded from a decline after 9/11. We
then turn to survey data from the American National Election Studies
(ANES) to show how the desired leadership characteristics of presiden-
tial candidates affect vote choice. The results challenge the emphasis on
toughness or strong leadership as requisites for presidential timber.
While these factors are indeed important, voters respond as much or more
to candidates perceived as caring and compassionateeven after 9/11. As
the militaristic approach to combating terrorism is increasingly called
into question, opportunities for new leadership, and a different agenda
may emerge. On the basis of these trends, we suggest some strategic op-
tions for women candidates seeking the presidency.

POPULAR SUPPORT FOR A WOMAN AS PRESIDENT

In many countries around the world, it is no longer unusual (or even


remarkable) for parties to nominate, and voters to vote for, women can-
didates for high elective offices. Since 1932, 78 women have been
elected president or prime minister (Lewis 2004). And in countries such
as Rwanda, Sweden, and Denmark, more than 40 percent of seats in
the national legislatures are held by women (United Nations 2000).
Susan B. Hansen and Laura Wills Otero 37

However, no woman has ever been nominated by a major party as a can-


didate for president in the United States, although several have sought
the nomination or have run as third-party candidates.1
One possible reason is lingering public opposition to a female chief
executive. Inglehart and Norris (2003) found that attitudes toward
women as political leaders were a better predictor of the proportion of
women in national legislatures than social or institutional factors, such
as the level of development, or the type of electoral system. Among the
74 countries they surveyed, the United States ranked tenth in the pro-
portion of respondents disagreeing that men make better political lead-
ers than women (Inglehart and Norris 2003, 137).2 Yet, despite this
evidence of popular support for women as leaders, the United States
still had a lower proportion of women in the national legislature than the
Inglehart/Norris model predicted. Institutional factors (especially our
two-party, winner-takes-all elections and limited use of proportional
representation) mediate the impact of public preferences (Darcy, Welch,
and Clark 2004). Parties in many countries around the world have also
adopted candidate quotas to increase the proportion of women elected
(Htun 2004). But in the United States, quotas and affirmative action
have little popular support as policy tools (Swain 1996).
Surveys since the 1930s have documented increasing popular sup-
port for electing a woman president. Yet a small but persistent minority
of Americans insists that they would not vote for a woman candidate for
president even if nominated by their own party. Figure 1 shows the re-
sponses to the Gallup Polls repeated question as to whether the respon-
dent would vote for a woman nominated for president by their own
party if she were qualified for the job. We see a dramatic increase
over time in the percent responding yes, from 31 percent in 1937 to
92 percent in 1999. This parallels similar increases in the propor-
tion of Americans saying they would vote for an African American,
Catholic, or Jew for president if they were well-qualified (although
well-qualified atheists still do not receive much popular support, see
Newport 1999). However, there was a slight but significant decline be-
tween 1999 and 2003 in popular willingness to vote for a woman for
president (Jones and Moore 2003), and the events of September 11,
2001, may well have been responsible.
But by January 2006, a CBS News/New York Times poll reported that
the level of willingness to vote for a qualified woman was back to 92
percent. Despite this evidence of a rebound in support for a female pres-
ident, lingering opposition to voting for a woman may be even greater
than these numbers suggest. A much smaller proportion of the public
38 JOURNAL OF WOMEN, POLITICS & POLICY

FIGURE 1. Percent Willing to Vote for a Woman for President

100
90
80
70
60
Percent

50
40
30
20
10
0
1935 1945 1955 1965 1975 1985 1995 2000

Source: Jones and Moore 2003; CBS/Gallup Poll 2006.

(55 percent) agreed that the United States is ready for a woman presi-
dent; men were actually more likely than women to think so (60 versus
51 percent, according to the same CBS/New York Times poll).3 Only 50
percent thought that other people would be likely to vote for a woman,
perhaps projecting their own doubts onto their neighbors. Between 4
and 11 percent of respondents answered no opinion when asked this
Gallup question. And some of these, as well as some who answered
yes, may be unwilling to admit to an interviewer (who is more than
likely to be female) that they oppose voting for a woman for president.
Of course, even posing the question is problematic; Gallup has never
asked if voters would support a well-qualified man for president. The
question has been posed only for marginal groups or minorities (African
Americans, Hispanics, Catholics, Jews, atheists). In 2004, a Fox News
poll asked whether Hillary Clinton was qualified to be president (59
percent agreed), but did not ask that question about any of her potential
opponents. A 2005 CNN/USA Today poll asked whether the term strong
and decisive leader applied to Hillary Clinton, and 68 percent of re-
spondents agreed that it did. Again, that question was not asked about
any other potential candidate, male or female.4
Table 1 shows the differences in support for a woman candidate for
president across various social groups. The demographic breakdowns
that might help us sort out trends in opinion were provided by the
Gallup Poll only in 1987 and (to a lesser extent) in 2003 and 2006.
Susan B. Hansen and Laura Wills Otero 39

TABLE 1. Support for Electing a Woman as President


The Gallup Poll question: If your party nominated a woman for president,
would you vote for her if she were qualified for the job?

Percent Saying Yes 1987 2003 2006


All 80 87 92
Southerners 74
Over age 50 75 81
Less than high school 76
High school graduate 77
Income under $25,000 78
Republicans 78 85
Hispanics 78
Protestants 80
Males 81 85
Whites 81
Independents 82 90
Females 83 89
Catholics 84
Democrats 85 94
Age 18-50 86 88
Some college 86
Blacks 86
Income over $25,000 87
Westerners 89
College graduates 93

Source: Gallup Poll Report 1987; Jones and Moore 2003; CBS/Gallup Poll 2006.

Based on the 1987 data, we see little evidence of a gender gap, with
women only slightly more likely than men (83 versus 81 percent) to say
they would support a woman candidate for president. By 2003, support
among both men and women had increased. In 1987, the strongest sup-
port was evident among college graduates, Westerners, younger voters,
African Americans, and higher income earners. Since the proportion of
college graduates in the United States has been increasing, and they are
the group most likely to vote, we should expect that political support for
electing a woman president should increase. But clearly significant
groups in the population are unlikely to vote even for a well-qualified
woman nominated by their own party. We see the lowest levels of
support for a woman for president among southerners, those with less
40 JOURNAL OF WOMEN, POLITICS & POLICY

education or lower incomes, people older than 50, and Hispanics. Self-
identified conservatives, Republicans, and evangelical Protestants (es-
pecially fundamentalists), who are less likely to support leadership roles
for women, have grown in numbers and political influence since the
1980s. This might also account for some of the fall off after 2001 in
support for electing a woman for president.
Other evidence also shows voter resistance to women in higher execu-
tive office in the United States. The 2006 CBS/Gallup Poll showed that
older voters, Republicans, southerners, and conservatives were less likely
to agree that the country is ready for a woman president. Delano and
Winters (1999) find significant statistical evidence of electoral discrimi-
nation against women in highly prized, singular gubernatorial contests
between 1972 and 1998. After controlling for candidate and challenger
traits, partisanship, electoral contexts, and national and state economic
conditions, they conclude that electoral discrimination reduced the vote
share of female candidates for governor, especially Republican women
candidates. They also report that state parties were more likely to nomi-
nate a female only when the opposing-party candidate was perceived to
be too strong and a sacrificial lamb was required. Witt, Paget, and
Matthews (1995) found that Geraldine Ferraros vice presidential candi-
dacy in 1984 generated considerable opposition, particularly from older
women whose own social status and life choices were called into question
by a successful woman in a non-traditional role.5
Faced with these opinion data and the Walter Mondale/Geraldine
Ferraro loss, party leaders and convention delegates may well hesitate
to nominate a woman, particularly when the United States is as closely
divided along partisan lines as it appears to be today. And voters may
use the same calculus; John Kerry won the early presidential primaries
in 2004 largely because he was perceived as more electable than
Howard Dean (Burden 2005). However, as Dolan (2004, 156) reports,
voting for women in her study of congressional candidates, 1992-2000,
was based primarily on the very same factors that predicted votes for
male candidates: party affiliation and incumbency status. Demographic
characteristics of voters (sex, race, education, age, etc.) had very limited
impact. But she notes that issues were more important for senatorial
than for congressional candidates, and presumably would be far more
important in a presidential campaign where voters have more informa-
tion about candidates stands.
The pool of eligibility of female candidates for president remains
small (Whicker and Isaacs 1999). Given the numbers of women gaining
valuable experience in lower offices, we would expect more of them to
Susan B. Hansen and Laura Wills Otero 41

run for senator or governor in future years. But to date only 28 women
have been governors (although far more, over 60, have been lieutenant
governors), and only 14 women are currently in the Senate (Center for
American Women in Politics [CAWP] 2005). These are the offices that
have traditionally served as routes to the presidency, with only a few ex-
ceptions since 1932. Eisenhower had never held elective office, but had
a stellar record as a general during World War II. Geraldine Ferraro was
a House member tapped by Walter Mondale to run for vice president in
1984. George H.W. Bush had been a representative from Texas years
before being selected as Ronald Reagans vice president in 1980, but
he had held other intervening high-level positions including director of
the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Gerald R. Ford was a member of
the House before his selection as vice president.
Military leadership has been another route to the presidency. A few
women have advanced to positions as admirals or generals in recent
years, but only in administrative or logistical positions. Under current
rules limiting womens combat roles, female officers are unlikely to
acquire the combat experience or war-hero status that enabled Eisen-
hower, Grant, or Taylor to be elected president, or boosted the candi-
dacies of John Kerry, John F. Kennedy, or John McCain. On the other
hand, the rhetoric of support for the military has helped even candidates
like George W. Bush, who avoided service in Vietnam, gain the presi-
dency. And notable war heroes like former Georgia Senator Max Cleland,
Gen. Wesley Clarke, John McCain, and John Kerry have all suffered
defeats. But ongoing doubts about a woman as Commander-in-Chief
will plague any female candidate for president. The political party lead-
ers and media commentators who help define serious presidential
candidates are unlikely to move far from the established routes to the
White House.

CANDIDATE IMAGE, GENDER, AND VOTES:


2000 VERSUS 2004

In addition to partisanship and issues, voters form images of the per-


sonal qualities and abilities of the candidates. Such traits include a can-
didates competence, compassion, honesty, morality, and leadership
ability. Recent research on American voting behavior has found these
perceptions to be strongly influenced by partisan identification, but they
can still be important influences on the voteusually far more so than
issues (Miller and Shanks 1996, 425-427). The media often focus on
42 JOURNAL OF WOMEN, POLITICS & POLICY

these attributes as well, in part, because of their importance for success-


ful presidential leadership, but also because assessment of personal
qualities does not require the policy expertise that analysis of issues
would require of either journalists or voters. Rather, voters infer traits
based on the issues candidates or the media emphasize (Hayes 2005).
And, of course, candidates will try to dramatize their own personal
strengths (and their opponents weaknesses) in their campaigns (Goren
2002). While particular traits are often perceived in partisan terms
(Democrats as more compassionate, Republicans as stronger leaders
and more moral), some candidates have successfully poached traits
from the other party in order to gain votes (Hayes 2005). George Bushs
emphasis on compassionate conservatism in 2000 may have helped
him make inroads with women, Catholics, and minorities.
Office and candidate images are gendered as well. Duerst-Lahti cites
the implicit assumptions that constitute presidential elections as mas-
culine space: the test of executive toughness, a preference for military
heroes, and the sports and war metaphors of debates. If men have
played an overwhelming role in an institutions creation and evolution,
it is only natural that masculine preferences become embedded in its
ideal nature . . . that is what has happened to the U.S. presidency (2006,
23). She also notes that different types of masculinity, dominance ver-
sus technological expertise, may be in conflict, and women candidates
might benefit if expertise masculinity predominated. But she found that
in both 2000 and 2004, press coverage included far more words linked
to dominance masculinity: tough, aggressive, strong, attack.
But how are the images candidates project, or the media emphasize,
perceived by the public? Gender schema influence how both male
and female candidates and their campaign messages are perceived by
voters (Bystrom et al. 2004, 23). Belief stereotypes include ideologies
and policy preferences; women are perceived as more liberal and better
at handling education and other social issues. Trait stereotypes iden-
tify women as more compassionate, willing to compromise, and people-
oriented, while men are seen as more assertive, active, and self-confident
(Huddy and Terkildson 1993; Alexander and Andersen 1993). Even if
individual candidates differ from such gendered expectations, voters
may still view them in terms of established schema. Such stereotypes
contribute to more women running for those state executive offices
(Commissioner of Education, Secretary of State) typified as feminine,
while fewer women compete for more masculine state offices such as
governor or attorney general. However, the type of office has no impact
on the likelihood of women winning; once nominated, the outcome
Susan B. Hansen and Laura Wills Otero 43

depends on the same factors (party competition, political culture, and


incumbency) for both sexes (Fox and Oxley 2003).
Duerst-Lahti argues that assessment of presidential timber ulti-
mately derives from perceptions by others (2006, 24). How might per-
ceived traits affect a womans chance of being a viable presidential
candidate? If traits usually typed as masculine are more important to
voters, female candidates for high-level office could face a rougher
road. But if gender-neutral traits are valued as well, women might have
a stronger chance at higher-level executive office. Being a strong leader
would appear to have more masculine connotations, while caring, hon-
esty, and morality have been identified as traits more often linked to
females (Huddy and Terkildsen 1993). Being viewed as intelligent or
knowledgeable should benefit either sex. But if male and female vot-
ers have significantly different perceptions, or value different traits,
candidates of either sex may have to craft their appeals accordingly.
Since 1980, the American National Election Studies (ANES) have
included questions on several candidate traits, including honesty, intel-
ligence, morality, decency, knowledgeability, strong leadership, and
compassion (whether the candidate cares about people like you).
These ANES data will be used to test, first, whether particular traits
were more or less important before and after 9/11. Second, we can ex-
amine how male and female voters perceive candidate traits, and wheth-
er they use traits differently in their voting calculus. Third, we analyze
which traits have had the greatest influence on vote choice in elections
since 1980. Given the ongoing Iraq war and threats of terrorism, we
would expect the strong leader trait to have become more salient and a
better predictor of the vote.
Table 2 contrasts candidate trait perceptions in 2000 and 2004, the
elections before and after 9/11. Surprisingly, George W. Bush was a bit
more likely to be considered a strong leader in 2000 than in 2004, al-
though men in both years were more likely to rate him as a strong leader
(even more so in 2004). In 2000, Al Gore was perceived as more knowl-
edgeable, intelligent, and compassionate than Bush, but less honest and
less of a strong leader; both candidates were widely perceived as moral.
In 2004, Bush again was more often perceived as a strong leader, but as
significantly less intelligent or knowledgeable than John Kerry. The
Democratic candidate in 2004 held the edge as someone who cares about
people like you, but was widely perceived as unable to make up his
mind, an image reinforced by numerous campaign ads attacking him as a
flip-flopper. Perhaps for that reason, Kerry was rated lower as a strong
leader than Gore had been in 2000, even though he had emphasized his
44 JOURNAL OF WOMEN, POLITICS & POLICY

TABLE 2. Candidate Image by Sex, 2000 and 2004

Percentage Who Agree


All Male Female
2000 survey
Gore is a strong leader 58 53 61*
Bush is a strong leader 67 66 66
Gore cares about people like you 57 51 63*
Bush cares about people like you 47 47 45
Gore is moral 75 69 79*
Bush is moral 73 73 73
Gore is knowledgeable 85 84 84
Bush is knowledgeable 72 68 72
Gore is intelligent 89 87 85
Bush is intelligent 76 74 78
Gore is dishonest 29 33 24*
Bush is dishonest 21 24 20
2004 survey
Kerry is a strong leader 52 47 55*
Bush is a strong leader 65 69 61*
Kerry cares about people like you 57 44 59*
Bush cares about people like you 46 46 47
Kerry is moral 68 64 73*
Bush is moral 69 69 69
Kerry is knowledgeable 80 80 79
Bush is knowledgeable 59 58 60
Kerry is intelligent 85 85 84
Bush is intelligent 61 60 82*
Kerry is dishonest 25 25 25
Bush is dishonest 32 33 31
Kerry cant make up his mind 47 49 46
Bush cant make up his mind 27 25 27

*Gender difference significant at p 0.05.


Source: American National Election Studies 2000, 2004. ICPSR, University of Michigan.

war record at the Democratic convention. While the candidates in 2004


were equally likely to be perceived as moral, Bush was a bit more
likely to come across as dishonest in 2004 than in 2000, perhaps be-
cause of skepticism about claims of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq
or of his compassionate conservatism. Candidates who poach their
opponents traits may risk being perceived as dishonest.
Susan B. Hansen and Laura Wills Otero 45

Significant gender differences are evident for only a few of these


traits. In 2000, women were more likely to perceive Gore as caring or as
a strong leader, and a bit less likely to perceive either Bush or Gore as
dishonest. In 2004, women were significantly more likely to perceive
Kerry as a strong leader, and less likely than men to rate Bush as strong.
Women in 2004 also rated Kerry as significantly more moral and caring
than men did. Some of these gender differences are of course due to
party ties, since more women than men identify with the Democrats and
voted for Kerry.
Do these candidate qualities affect how people vote? In both 2000
and 2004 we see very strong bivariate relationships between peoples
perceptions of candidate qualities and their votes as shown in Table 3.
Even in a peacetime election (2000), the gamma statistics indicate that
the relationship between perceptions and vote choice was strongest for
the strong leader cue, although perceptions that a candidate cares
about people like me ranked a close second. In 2004, after 9/11 and
during the war in Iraq, the strong leader cue was again strongly re-
lated to vote choice, but the perception that Bush cares about people
like you was equally strongly associated with vote choice. Overall, the
association between traits and vote choice differed little between males
and females. The major exception was that agreeing that Kerry cant
make up his mind was significantly more important for womens votes
in 2004.
Morality, honesty, intelligence, and knowledgeability all mattered
somewhat more for George Bush than for John Kerry, but did less well
at predicting vote choice than either compassion or strong leadership.
At least in 2004, morality apparently mattered more to voters than hon-
esty, knowledge, intelligence, or decisiveness. This finding thus meshes
with post-election polls suggesting that moral issues were the most
important ones for voters in 2004, although survey analysts have come
to vastly different conclusions as to what moral issues actually meant
to voters (Greenberg and Carville 2004; Hillygus and Shields 2005;
Lim 2005).

MODELING CANDIDATE TRAITS AND VOTES:


1984-2004

We have been considering gender differences in candidate percep-


tions and the bivariate relationships between these perceptions and vote
choice. How has the impact of candidate traits changed over time? In
46 JOURNAL OF WOMEN, POLITICS & POLICY

TABLE 3. Candidate Image and Vote Choice, 2000 and 2004

Percentage Who Agree Gamma with Vote


Voting For
All Male Female
2000 survey Bush Gore
Gore is a strong leader 20 80 0.90 0.91 0.88
Bush is strong leader 68 32 0.89 0.90 0.88
Gore cares about people 24 76 0.87 0.83 0.88
like you
Bush cares about 78 22 0.88 0.85 0.90
people like you
Gore is knowledgeable 41 59 0.66 0.56 0.78*
Bush is knowledgeable 60 40 0.72 0.79 0.74
Gore is dishonest 25 75 0.68 0.73 0.75
Bush is dishonest 56 44 0.64 0.50 0.78*
2004 survey Bush Kerry
Kerry is strong leader 15 85 0.90 0.90 0.90
Bush is strong leader 76 24 0.91 0.89 0.83
Kerry cares about 25 75 0.84 0.86 0.82
people like you
Bush cares about people 89 11 0.91 0.91 0.91
like you
Kerry is moral 31 69 0.83 0.79 0.85
Bush is moral 69 31 0.84 0.85 0.85
Kerry is knowledgeable 41 59 0.76 0.72 0.80*
Bush is knowledgeable 76 24 0.81 0.84 0.77*
Kerry is intelligent 45 55 0.60 0.57 0.63
Bush is intelligent 76 24 0.79 0.78 0.81
Kerry is dishonest 79 21 0.66 0.65 0.68
Bush is dishonest 14 86 0.80 0.83 0.77
Kerry cant make up 77 23 0.69 0.64 0.76*
his mind
Bush cant make up 24 76 0.62 0.62 0.60
his mind

*Gender difference significant at p 0.05.


Source: American National Election Studies 2000, 2004. ICPSR, University of Michigan.

particular, has the salience of the strong leader cue increased since
9/11? And do males and females assess candidates differently? To an-
swer these questions, we will consider the impact of candidate traits on
the two-party presidential vote since 1984 (ANES first began asking the
traits questions in 1980, but the strong leader question was not
Susan B. Hansen and Laura Wills Otero 47

included until 1984). We would expect the salience of particular attrib-


utes to vary from election to election as issues, candidates, and agendas
shift. Of course, peoples perceptions of candidates are highly colored
by their partisanship. However, elite cues and media coverage can high-
light different character strengths and weaknesses, and even partisans
views respond to such cues (Goren 2002). Thus in 1992 and 1996, Dem-
ocrats as well as Republicans rated Bill Clinton as lacking in morality
(although unlike Republicans, most Democrats voted for him anyway).
Table 4 shows the prediction of the two-party vote, 1984-2004, on
the basis of party identification, sex, and four traits: whether the candi-
date is a strong leader, compassionate (cares about people like you), in-
telligent, or is moral.6 The traits are measured as the difference between
perceptions of the Republican and Democratic candidates; the scale
ranges from 3 to 3. The intelligence trait was not asked in 1996.
Party identification is based on the ANES 7-point scale (1 = Strong
Democrat, 7 = Strong Republican). The coefficients are based on logis-
tic regression and the Wald statistic indicates statistical significance
(Wald values greater than 4 are significant at p < 0.05). Multicolli-
nearity was not an issue; although individual candidate evaluations tend
to be partisan, perceptions of candidate differences on the traits are only
weakly related to party identification.
In all years, party identification is the best predictor of the vote.7 The
strong leader cue was apparently the most important trait in 1988 and
2000, a somewhat surprising result since neither military nor foreign-
policy issues were salient in either of those elections. In 1992, the coef-
ficient for strong leader was slightly larger than that for cares about
people like you, although the Wald statistic suggests that the latter car-
ried a bit more weight. In the remaining elections, the perceived candi-
date difference in compassion was the most salient trait predicting
the vote, even after controlling for party identification. Morality was
relatively more salient in 1992; after questions arose concerning Bill
Clintons sexual improprieties, even most Democrats rated Bill Clinton
as less moral than George H.W. Bush. Yet, even in 1992, morality mat-
tered less than leadership or compassion. Intelligence was a modest but
significant factor only in 1984. In 2004, although perceptions of differ-
ences in candidate intelligence were larger than in any previous year,
John Kerrys perceived advantage in intelligence brought him no signif-
icant electoral benefit. Compassion, leadership, and morality apparently
mattered more to voters.
It is striking that the signs of the trait coefficients are all negative, as
Hayes (2005) also reports. We used the same coding, subtracting the
48
TABLE 4. Party, Candidate Traits, Sex, and Republican Presidential Vote, 1984-2004

Logistic Regression Coefficients, Wald Statistic, (Standard Error)


1984 Wald 1988 Wald 1992 Wald 1996 Wald 2000 Wald 2004 Wald
Party 0.59 75.6 0.62 93.7 0.74 105.2 0.68 79.1 0.86 109.5 0.65 43.9
identification* (0.07) (0.06) (0.07) (0.08) (0.08) (0.10)
Trait difference
Cares 1.30 74.4 0.93 34.6 0.95 45.1 1.42 56.6 0.71 18.5 1.08 30.8
about you (0.15) (0.16) (0.14) (0.19) (0.16) (0.19)
Strong 0.77 37.7 1.03 49.1 1.01 40.2 0.53 11.0 0.92 36.1 0.64 12.8
leader (0.13) (0.15) (0.16) (0.16) (0.15) (0.18)
Moral 0.70 16.2 0.77 18.5 0.61 22.9 0.60 16.2 0.63 13.7 0.42 5.0
(0.17) (0.18) (0.14) (0.15) (0.17) (0.19)
Sex (1 = male, 0.19 0.7 0.23 0.9 0.38 2.2 0.03 0.1 0.09 0.1 0.05 0.2
2 = female) (0.23) (0.24) (0.25) (0.28) (0.27) (0.33)
Constant 1.27 7.9 1.61 12.4 4.06 52.3 3.61 41.0 2.38 22.8 1.98 10.2
(0.45) (0.46) (0.56) (0.56) (0.50) (0.62)
Nagelkerke R2 0.79 0.79 0.83 0.84 0.83 0.85
Percentage 90.7 89.7 92.3 92.9 91.6 92.7
correctly
classified

*1 = Strong Democratic . . . 7 = Strong Republican.


Susan B. Hansen and Laura Wills Otero 49

Democratic from the Republican candidate ratings. Once party identifi-


cation is taken into account (coded so that high values represent strong
Republicans), Democratic presidential candidates apparently benefit
from perceived differences in leadership, compassion, morality, and (to
a much lesser degree) intelligence. However, in many years the Demo-
cratic advantage in trait perceptions has been counterbalanced by much
higher party loyalty and voter turnout by Republicans.
In 1992, women were somewhat more likely than men to vote for Bill
Clinton, but in no other year did gender have much independent impact
on the vote once party identification was taken into account. We also
added interaction terms for sex and trait perceptions, to test whether any
traits were more important for mens or womens votes. However, none
of the interaction terms reached statistical significance or contributed to
the variance explained.8 In short, apparent gender differences in percep-
tions of candidate traits are largely due to differences in the proportion
of men and women identifying with the two parties. About 30 percent of
women claim to be Republicans, compared with 39 percent who iden-
tify as Democrats.9 But it is not possible to compare the impact of candi-
date traits on vote choice for Democrats and Republicans separately,
because over 90 percent of partisans supported their partys candidate.
Any logistic regression would therefore be overdetermined and there-
fore uninterpretable.
Although partisanship may be more important than sex as a predictor
of the vote, candidates should not ignore the substantial sex differences
in trait perceptions. Table 5 shows the mean differences in perception of
candidate traits by sex, 1980-2004 (a negative value means Republicans
rank higher than Democrats on a given trait). In every year, men saw the
Republican candidate as a stronger leader than the Democrat. In 1988,
1992, and 1996, women gave the leadership edge to the Democratic
candidate. In every year in which the question was asked (1980 ex-
cluded), both sexes rated the Democratic candidate as more compas-
sionate, but women were more likely to do so than men. Sex differences
in perceptions of morality, however, are considerably smaller except for
1996, when both men and women (but especially men) rated Bill
Clinton as less moral than Dole. The Republican candidate had the edge
on the moral trait in every year after 1980, although women in 2000
rated Al Gore slightly higher than George W. Bush. The Democratic
candidate consistently held the advantage in perceived intelligence,
most strongly in 2004, but the sexes differed very little in evaluations of
intelligence.
50 JOURNAL OF WOMEN, POLITICS & POLICY

TABLE 5. Perceptions of Differences in Candidate Traits by Sex, 1980-2004

Strong Leader Cares About You Moral Intelligent


1980
Males 0.63 0.23
Females 0.30* 0.31
1984
Males 0.63 0.29 0.09 0.09
Females 0.32* 0.40* 0.09 0.05
1988
Males 0.04 0.26 0.03 0.16
Females 0.14* 0.32 0.09 0.14
1992
Males 0.03 0.49 0.63 0.03
Females 0.18* 0.67* 0.60 0.11
1996
Males 0.20 0.04 1.00
Females 0.13* 0.40* 0.64*
2000
Males 0.20 0.14 0.08 0.28
Females 0.01* 0.36* 0.12* 0.18
2004
Males 0.44 0.20 0.19 0.48
Females 0.19* 0.23 0.07* 0.44

*Difference of means significant at p 0.05.


Trait scales coded from 3 (Republican advantage) to +3 (Democratic advantage).

Strongly partisan appeals may do little to attract independents,


whose votes may be crucial to the electoral outcome. Since women are
now 54 percent of the electorate, the gender gap in trait perceptions
merits consideration. Campaigns have increasingly used carefully tar-
geted messages to reach specific audiences via the Internet and televi-
sion ads. MacManus (2006) documents the boutique turnout efforts
directed at younger, church-going, single, working-class, or Hispanic
women in 2004. Hillary Clinton ultimately benefited from a sizeable
womens vote (including many Republican crossovers) in New York
in 2000. David Brooks (2006) notes that many low-income women who
voted for Bush in 2004 actually favor expanded government services,
Susan B. Hansen and Laura Wills Otero 51

and targeted appeals highlighting those issues might benefit Hillary


Clinton.
This analysis suggests that perceptions of candidate traits are critical
predictors of the vote, even when party identification is taken into ac-
count.10 The upward trend in R2 values suggest that since 1984, candi-
date traits may have become even more important. But the strong
leader cue frequently ranks second to compassion (whether a candi-
date cares about people like you.) And being perceived as a strong
leader was strikingly less important after 9/11 than in any previous
year other than 1996. Candidate or media emphasis on leadership
toughness in 2004 was apparently not as salient to voters; even though
they perceived larger differences in leadership than in 2000, perceived
differences in compassion were better predictors of the vote.
This analysis of candidate traits also suggests that voters own
explanations for their choices cannot always be trusted. Americans reg-
ularly insist that they vote for the person and not the party, but party
identification remains the single best predictor of vote choices. Re-
sponses to open-ended questions about candidates often show hon-
esty to be the most highly valued trait (Louden and McAuliff 2004).
But perceptions of differences in candidate honesty are far less impor-
tant as predictors of Presidential voting than leadership, compassion,
morality, or intelligence.

CAN A WOMAN BE PERCEIVED


AS A STRONG LEADER?

Widely held gender stereotypes may make the perception of leader-


ship strength difficult for women. Wilson (2004) describes an experi-
ment with troubling implications: an audience of potential voters was
asked to view campaign ads for (mostly unknown) male and female
candidates and to turn a dial up or down to measure traits that made
candidates effective. But

Before the ads even started, when the candidate simply appeared
on the screen without speaking a wordin fact, before he or she
had any real traits at all other than genderthe dialers made deci-
sions about leadership potential. Women stayed even or were di-
aled down, but men were dialed up from the first second . . . men
had the instant advantage, based on their maleness. (19)
52 JOURNAL OF WOMEN, POLITICS & POLICY

However, these ads were for little-known women running for office,
who still needed to define themselves for many voters. But we have wit-
nessed several recent examples of women appearing cool and compe-
tent during a crisis: Janet Reno as the longest-serving attorney general,
Madeleine Albright during the bombing of Kosovo and speaking before
the United Nations, Dianne Feinstein after an assassination made her
mayor of San Francisco, and of course Margaret Thatcher during the
Falklands/Malvinas war. Prior political experience, especially in crisis
management, may help persuade voters to dial up rather than down
when confronted with an actual female candidate for higher office.
Candidates must rely on campaign ads and media coverage to create
and project a particular image. Historically, media coverage of women
politicians has emphasized their gender, physical appearance, novelty
as a candidate, and family relationships. Such slanted coverage would
not help a woman build a strong leader image. However, more recent
research suggests that media coverage of female candidates has become
more equitable in terms of both quality and quantity. Further, the emer-
gence of the Internet as a major campaign tool may provide female can-
didates with unlimited opportunities for balancing masculine and
feminine issues and traits in self-presentation (Bystrom, Banwart,
Kaid, and Robertson 2004, 217). Although television coverage may re-
inforce gender stereotypes, Bystrom and her colleagues found that
males and females appear to react similarly to Web-based information.
Any female presidential candidate should probably expect negative
attack ads and vigorous challenges, both from her major opponent
and from non-party groups like the Swift Boat Veterans who so suc-
cessfully tarnished John Kerrys record as a war hero in 2004. But
female candidates have made successful use of negative advertising
themselves. Bystrom et al.s (2004) analysis of video styles used in
senatorial or gubernatorial races between 1992 and 2002 found that
winning female candidates were more likely than winning male candi-
dates to use issue attacks or negative advertising. Democratic women
tended to emphasize being aggressive or a fighter, while Republican
women stressed their leadership and toughness.
Women politicians who can demonstrate their toughness and their
skills at crisis management may yet have a chance at national office. As
Figure 2 shows, potential Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton was con-
sidered a strong leader by 68 percent of respondents to an August 2005
CNN poll. This comports favorably with the ratings given to George
Bush in the 2000 and 2004 ANES surveys, and is well above either
Gores or Kerrys ratings. These data should be interpreted with some
Susan B. Hansen and Laura Wills Otero 53

FIGURE 2. Traits and Ideology: Hillary Clinton and the 2000 and 2004 Candi-
dates
Bush Gore Kerry Clinton

70

60
Percentage agreeing

50

40

30

20

10

conservative
is moderate
cares about
is a strong

dishonest
people like

is liberal
leader

you

is

is
Increase from 2000 to 2004

caution, since the question wordings differ slightly; the CNN poll asked
respondents whether the phrase strong and decisive leader did or did
not apply to Hillary Clinton, rather than asking them to agree or dis-
agree as did the ANES question. One might also wonder how Hillary
Clintons strong leader ratings compare with those of John McCain,
Bill Frist, Russ Feingold, or any other potential 2008 candidates, but we
were unable to find any surveys evaluating prospective male candidates
on this quality.
The CNN poll placed Hillary Clintons ratings on cares about peo-
ple like you well above Bushs and between the ratings for Gore in
2000 and Kerry in 2004. Her efforts to move to the center on issues such
as abortion and support for the military (Hernandez 2004) may have
succeeded; she was perceived as liberal by 54 percent of voters,
slightly below the percentages for either Gore or Kerry. Thirty percent
saw her as moderate and only 9 percent as conservative. But given her
reputation as a liberal (and Republican efforts to depict her as such), her
attempts at policy moderation may have led 43 percent of survey re-
spondents to doubt that she was honest or trustworthymuch higher per-
centages than for any of the 2000 or 2004 candidates.
54 JOURNAL OF WOMEN, POLITICS & POLICY

Thus, there may be limits as to how well candidates can succeed in


repositioning themselves. Louden and McAuliff (2004) suggest that
candidates can adapt too much. Although campaign consultants urged
John Kerry to be more vocal about his religious convictions in 2004, he
was obviously less comfortable than George Bush with discussions of
prayer and personal beliefs. Even though Kerry mentioned God and
faith far more than Bush did in his speeches and debates (Lim 2005), his
efforts lacked credibility with voters and the media. As Clift and
Brazaitis (2003, xi) warn us,

Women frequently go too far in proving their toughness. Seeking


credibility, they cater to mens issuesdefense and the economy
sometimes at the expense of losing touch with their natural constit-
uency of women.

Women may also face competition from male candidates who make
effective use of traditional female issues with voter appeal, such as edu-
cation, health care, or family values. Thus, Brystrom, Banwart, Kaid,
and Robertson (2004, 51) found that more male than female candidates
used television ads depicting their own children. Given the importance
of the strong leader perception as a predictor of peoples votes, how-
ever, women candidates may find it necessary to emphasize this trait at
the expense of other qualities. Female candidates may also benefit from
voters strong preference for a candidate who cares about people like
you, since compassion has traditionally been defined as a feminine
trait (Lawless 2004) and gender schema reinforce voters perceptions of
women as more compassionate.

CONCLUSION:
OPTIONS FOR WOMEN
SEEKING THE PRESIDENCY

The Gallup Poll data summarized above show increasing public sup-
port for electing a woman president. While support dipped slightly during
the Vietnam war and after 9/11, these effects have been temporary. Anal-
ysis of ANES data showed that while perceptions of candidates as strong
leaders were indeed important, in several elections since 1984 the trait
that mattered most to voters was whether a candidate cares about people
like you. And this trait was more important in 2004, even after 9/11, than
Susan B. Hansen and Laura Wills Otero 55

in 2000. Although Democratic candidates consistently had an edge in


compassion, especially among women, this edge did not always translate
into votes. The candidate with a significant advantage in perception as
a strong leader almost always won, even when other traits were more
important to voters. Thus, unless a woman can generate the perception
that she is a strong leader, she will face an uphill battle for the presi-
dency. Recent polls suggest Hillary Clinton is widely perceived as a
strong leader, but it remains to be seen whether that perception will over-
come skepticism about a female commander in chief.
So, what are some possible electoral strategies for women seeking
the presidency? They must first lay the political groundwork in other
elective office in order to be perceived as electable by the media,
party leaders, and voters. Prior high-level electoral experience (gover-
nor or senator) is probably as crucial for them as it is for male candi-
dates. Groups such as EMILYs (Early Money is Like Yeast) List and
the White House Project are providing funds and encouragement to
women currently in Congress or state legislatures to boost them into
higheroffices. Still, it may be necessary to gain such experience at a
younger age, a serious issue for women politicians who tend to begin
their public careers later in life than men do.11 The ability to handle neg-
ative campaign attack ads or to respond to crises are also ways to demon-
strate leadership.
Second, front-loading of presidential primaries (moving dates
earlier and earlier in election years) puts even more emphasis on pre-
primary activities, especially fund-raising (Polsby and Wildavsky 2004).
The ability to attract huge levels of contributions early is increasingly
valuable; lack of funds was the major reason Elizabeth Dole gave for
withdrawing from the Republican primary race in late 1999. Hillary
Clinton is reputed to be the Democratic Partys top fund-raiser, which
could greatly help her candidacy in 2008. However, Dolan (2004) found
that gender stereotypes are more likely to be salient in primaries when
party cues are absent. This could be detrimental for a woman seeking
the nomination, perhaps even more so in the early-primary state of New
Hampshire because of its sizeable elderly population.
A third alternative route to the presidency might provide a way
around the electoral and institutional obstacles facing female candi-
dates. Many recent vice presidents (Richard Nixon, Lyndon Johnson,
Humbert Humphrey, Gerald Ford, Walter Mondale, George H.W. Bush,
and Al Gore) have been nominated for president. Not all have won; as
Polsby and Wildavsky (2004) note, a vice president can be blamed for
any shortcomings of the previous administration but may be unable to
56 JOURNAL OF WOMEN, POLITICS & POLICY

claim credit for its accomplishments. But a candidates choice of vice


president may elevate someone (like Geraldine Ferraro in 1984) with a
respectable level of political experience who may not yet have reached
the pool of eligibility for president and who might not have been a con-
tender in the primary or pre-primary phase. And if the (male) presiden-
tial candidate is perceived as sufficiently tough on national security
and terrorism (a war hero, perhaps?), the female vice presidential candi-
date may be able to emphasize other aspects of the political agenda.
Serving first as vice president may give a woman the experience and
credibility to eventually run for president on her own. And the death or
disability of a male president could hasten the process. Perhaps life will
imitate art; ABCs fall 2005 television drama Commander in Chief used
exactly that plot line to introduce a woman as president.
The ongoing war in Iraq poses troubling political choices for both
Democrats and Republicans. A strongly anti-war, anti-military, or paci-
fist position, whatever its intellectual or ethical justification, is unlikely
to be politically viable in the United States today for either male or fe-
male candidates. But campaigns against a too-high defense budget, as
Bill Clinton did in 1992, or unnecessary and ill-planned wars, as John
Kerry did in 2004, may still be positions sizeable numbers of voters will
support. As the war in Iraq becomes increasingly unpopular, candidates
in 2008 may not need to present a specific plan to end the war or bring
the troops home; they may simply criticize the Bush administrations
leadership or handling of the war.
What about terrorism? At least in the short run, the president can
certainly influence the agenda of Congress, the media, and the public
(Cohen 1995). Keeping the events of 9/11 and concerns about terrorism
in the news may heighten voters fears, and thus encourage them to
support tough-talking political leaders who offer them a sense of secu-
rity. This is apparently Karl Roves strategy for 2006 and 2008: to capi-
talize on the Republican Partys edge in fighting terrorism and crime
(Balz 2006). Landau et al. (2004) provide evidence from experiments
that emphasize on the salience of 9/11, or of the risk of death, influenced
subjects to have more positive evaluations of President Bush.
But the president does not control events, particularly those of other
countries. Nor does he control the media. If the war on Iraq (or on terror-
ism) is not perceived to be going well, public space will open for other
agendas, other issues, and other candidates. An April 2006 poll by
the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) found that
for the first time, the Democratic party had an edge (41 to 39 percent)
over the Republicans as the party respondents trusted more to protect
Susan B. Hansen and Laura Wills Otero 57

Americas national security and have the right policies for combating
terrorism (DSCC 2006). Of course, the results of any partisan polls are
suspect, but the DSCC had posed the same question earlier and found a
distinct Republican advantage. Gallup and other commercial polls have
likewise reported declines over the past two years in the Republicans
advantage as the party best able to deal with national security.
The pool of eligible women as elected officials continues to expand,
and the national and international agenda is constantly shifting. The
war on terror may have caused considerable short-term difficulties
for women as potential candidates for the presidency or other offices.
But if the war as currently being waged is perceived as failing to pro-
vide either peace or security, alternative models of leadership may pro-
vide women with electoral advantages rather than disadvantages as they
seek the presidency. Weeden (2004) suggests alternative ways to com-
bat terrorism that could well advantage female candidates for the presi-
dency: alleviating poverty, improving education for women and girls,
enhancing public health, limiting population growth, and collaboration
with international agencies. As we have shown, perceptions of candi-
dates compassion and strong leadership are both good predictors of
how Americans vote.

NOTES
1. Since Victoria Woodhull first declared her candidacy for the presidency in
1872, several women have campaigned for the nomination: Senator Margaret Chase
Smith (D.-ME) in 1960, Rep. Shirley Chisholm (D.-NY) in 1972, Rep. Pat Schroeder
(D.-CO) in 1988, and Elizabeth Dole (R.-KS) in 2000 (e.g., Duerst-Lahti 2006, 35-36).
2. Inglehart and Norris (2003, 143) report a sizeable gender gap in attitudes toward
women as political leaders. Opinions of male respondents in the 74 countries they sur-
veyed vary little by age cohort, but younger women strongly supported women as polit-
ical leaders.
3. This survey is from January 20-25, 2006, and is available at www.pollingreport.
com/politics.htm#CBS.
4. See Herbst (1993) for discussion of the influence of polling questions and meth-
ods on American politics. The CNN poll is available at www.pollingreport.com/C2.
htm#Hillary (August 5-7, 2005).
5. This opposition may have been counterbalanced by the upsurge in political
awareness, interest, and involvement by younger women of both parties who were gal-
vanized by the presence of a woman on the ticket (Hansen 1997; Atkeson 2003). Many
feminists argued that the Democrats in 1984 did not take full advantage of Ferraros
appeal, forcing her to make many campaign appearances in the South where she faced
opposition, rather than in larger cities where favorable media coverage and enthusiastic
crowds were more likely.
58 JOURNAL OF WOMEN, POLITICS & POLICY

6. While questions on various other traits were asked in particular years, none
proved to have a significant independent effect on vote choice once the three most sa-
lient traits are considered. Hayes (2005) adds several demographic and policy factors
2
to his equations predicting votes on the basis of trait differences, but reports smaller R
values than those shown here.
7. In 1980, the strong leader cue was more important than party, although this re-
sult may well be due to the absence of the cares about you? trait question in that year.
8. We also ran regressions to test whether men and women relied on different traits
when voting for candidates. The results generally confirmed what we saw in Table 5:
men tended to see somewhat larger differences between the candidates as strong lead-
ers or as moral, and these factors weighed a bit more heavily as predictors of their
votes. Likewise, women were more likely to perceive differences in caring, and this
factor was somewhat more likely to influence their votes. 2004 was the only anomaly;
in that year, leadership was relatively more important for women, while compassion
mattered more for men.
9. See Norris (2003) for a detailed analysis of the gender gap in party identifica-
tion, voting, and opinions on issues. Women who are older, white, married, and more
religious are more likely to be Republicans than younger, minority, single, or secular
women.
10. Although party identification is correlated with candidate trait evaluations, the
relationship is far from perfect (in part because a high proportion of respondents see no
difference between the candidates on the traits). Further tests indicated that the com-
bined traits accounted for only about 30 percent of the variance in party identification,
suggesting that multicollinearity was not a major concern.
11. In 2006, Dianne Feinstein and Nancy Pelosi, despite their notable careers
in Congress, were 64 and 66 respectively, almost certainly too old for serious consider-
ation in 2008 or thereafter (although the candidate with the current most favorable
public image, John McCain, will be 72 in 2008). A promising woman governor,
Michigans Jennifer Granholm, is ineligible because she was born in Canada.

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doi:10.1300/J501v28n01_03