New Study: Yup Newspaper Coverage of Female Candidates Is Different!

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A new study published in Political Research Quarterly reveals that female politicians are more likely to receive coverage about their personality traits than male politicians. The study, “Traits versus Issues: How Female Candidates Shape Coverage of Senate and Gubernatorial Races” was conducted by Johanna Danaway, Regina G. Lawrence, Melody Rose, and Christopher R. Weber, who analyzed 9,725 print articles from local newspapers that covered the various 2006 and 2008 Senate and gubernatorial elections from across the country to see whether the coverage in these newspapers varied by gender.  What they found was that whenever a woman was running in a race, the amount of articles focused on personality traits increased.

They found that for male-only election coverage, the stories focused on character traits 6 percent of the time and the issues 55.5 percent of the time. For male-female races, the articles focused on traits 10.8 percent of the time and the issues 53.1 percent of the time. For female-only elections, the stories focused on character traits 9.4 percent of the time and on the issues 51.7 percent of the time.

Does this necessarily mean that women are receiving sexist coverage? Some argue that focusing on personality traits might actually help a woman’s candidacy if the traits are stereotypic feminine traits such as “caring, sympathetic, compassionate, etc.” However, when looking at the dataset, it is clear that when the media – or in this specific case, local newspapers -- chooses to focus on personality traits, it takes away from articles focused on political issues. We can talk all day about how a female candidate has a great personality (in an ideal hypothetical scenario), but if we don’t know anything about where she stands on political issues, do you think the public will actually vote for her? The point is that the coverage in the local newspapers is still skewed by gender and we find that problematic. 

Published by Michelle Van Veen on 07/09/2013

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