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Study: More women running for office may hurt chances for other female candidates

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Gender stereotypes still influence voters and can adversely affect elections with more than one woman on the ballot, according to a new study from Iowa State University.

When there is only one woman on a party's ballot, she tends to not be affected by gender stereotypes; in fact, women usually win at the same rate as men do in United States elections, according to David Andersen, an assistant political science professor at Iowa State University who helped craft the study.

This changes, though, when another woman of the same party appears on the same ballot, said Andersen.

“When there’s another women running farther down the ballot, voters don’t tend to learn more information about her so the stereotypes still hold for her and they devalue her as a candidate," Andersen said.

Researchers on the project used computer software to create a real election environment for some 400 participants in the study. They were shown photos of candidates and given information about them. Then they were asked to cast their vote.

Researchers manipulated the candidates for each computer simulation so that all characteristics were the same, except gender.

The results show that female candidates running for lower office like U.S. Congress were negatively impacted when there was a woman running for higher office on the same ballot. This comes at a time when a record-breaking number women are slated to appear on the 2018 ballot in Iowa.

“When there was only one woman, gender didn’t matter. People liked her the same as the male candidate and were just as likely to vote for her,” said Tess Ditonto, Andersen's colleague in the political science department at Iowa State, who was also a lead researcher on the project “When we added another woman, especially one running for higher office, the woman lower on the ballot had more negative evaluations and was less likely to receive votes.”

Andersen said the 2016 election---the first time a woman, Hillary Clinton, was a major party nominee---is a prime example.

"What happened to all of the women running for the Democratic party further down the ballot?" Andersen said. What our experiments show us is that they were probably liked less by the public," Andersen said.

Anderson said this shows stereotypes against female candidates still have strong influence and that has to with lack of information.

“They took the time to learn about Hillary Clinton, but didn’t take as much time and probably devalued them because of it," he said.

The takeaway: gender stereotypes aren’t going away anytime soon.

“The terrain for women candidates remains difficult. Women running for office don’t face the same challenges as men—they face much greater challenges," Andersen said.



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