Deborah Jordan Brooks in a 2010 piece titled, “Politics and Gender,” finds that women respond to negative campaign ads differently from men.
The study’s findings include:
“Men are more likely to be motivated to vote by a negative campaign message. Highly negative campaigns saw the “biggest gender differences: an 88% probability of voting for men and just a 77% probability of voting for women.” In contests with the least amount of negative campaigning, “women are slightly higher than men in terms of predicted probability of going to the polls.”
After viewing uncivil negative ads, only 9% of men said they would definitely not vote, while 21% of women said they would not.”
The study concludes:
“These findings do not suggest that women are mobilized only by positive messages, nor do they suggest that women are averse to tough campaigning. Women are not demobilized at all by negative messages that are delivered in a civil manner; in fact, such messages are as mobilizing for women as are positive messages. It is only when gratuitous insults are involved in campaigns that the turnout of men increases significantly relative to women.”
Living in the swing state of Colorado this election season has been eye-opening. In one way, it is satisfying to have Washington D.C. focusing on my home state. However, on the other hand, like many Coloradans, I will be just fine if I never see another negative, uncivil campaign ad after November 6.
Having many recent conversations with women in my community motivated me to research a hypothesis I have that the increasingly negative campaign tactics are making it harder for local advocates doing Get Out the Vote (GOTV) work. Yet, this work has never been more important than it is today in our history.
Women are disproportionately represented among people with low incomes in our country. According to the National Women’s Law Center’s analysis of U.S. Census poverty data by state:
“In 2011, more than one in five women was poor in Mississippi (22.3 percent) and Louisiana (20.6 percent). Only one state, New Hampshire, had a poverty rate of less than ten percent for women, at 8.9 percent. In the other 47 states and the District of Columbia, between 10 and 20 percent of women lived below the poverty line.”
Why is this important? In the 2008 election, there was a troubling voter turnout gap; 59% of eligible voters with incomes under $50,000 cast a ballot, vs. 76% of eligible voters earning more. Bottom line: Research shows voter turnout generally increases with individual income.
That the “attack” political tone today is perhaps leading fewer women to vote is particularly interesting this fall, when there is no doubt the Presidential campaigns are spending big and driving hard to win the women’s vote. Yet it is arguably fair to say both the Romney and Obama 2012 campaigns are characterized by unprecedented levels of negativity, despite the ostensible messaging around uplifting words such as “Forward” (from President Obama’s campaign) and “Believe: Stand with Mitt” (of the Romney campaign).
In a July 2012 guest post in Forbes Magazine, in an article titled, “Why Millennial Women Do Not Want To Lead,” Julie Zeilinger writes:
“During the 2008 Presidential campaign, Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin were presented not as political candidates, but rather as stereotypes and opposite ends of sexist dichotomies. Both women’s ideals were dismissed in exchange for commentary on their physical attractiveness or their ability or inability to live up to typical definitions of femininity. Not only were these women abused and constantly criticized for attempting to lead, they were again reduced to the way they looked, for how they achieved or failed to achieve a ridiculous standard of perfection and ultimately femininity. It would take an extremely self-assured young women to observe this treatment and see that aspiring to such a leadership role results in receiving the same ridiculous scrutiny, the same frustrating dismissal of her ideals. It would take an extremely self-assured young woman in a culture that encourages young women to be anything but.”
Zeilinger is a 19-year-old undergraduate student at Barnard College, Columbia University, and Founder and Editor of the FBomb.org, a feminist blog/community for teens and young adults who care about their rights and want to be heard.
High voter turnout is measure of public trust in government. Therefore, the irony here should not be overlooked because elected officials pay attention to the people who vote.
I invite readers who find this topic interesting to subscribe here and look for future articles on young adult women and teens’ views on leadership and gender equity in public office. As always, I welcome your comments or you can send email messages to firstname.lastname@example.org