Gender stereotypes as a double-edged sword in political advertising: persuasion effects of campaign theme and advertising style

Yu-Kang Lee

National Sun Yat-sen University


The biggest asset for a woman candidate is being a woman, and the biggest liability is not being a man.

Barbara Curran, former New Jersey Assembly member (cited in Mandel 1981, p. 31)

The significant increase in the number of female candidates seeking political posts at all levels over the past decade is nearly a worldwide phenomenon. Although female candidates have become increasingly popular in politics, how voters perceive them is often heatedly debated. Recently, political communications researchers have paid increasing attention to gender differences in political advertising (e.g. Fox & Lawless 2004; Smith et al. 2005). By prioritising masculine or feminine traits or issues, these studies addressed the question of whether there are differences between male and female candidates with regard to the styles of their spot ads and campaign themes (e.g. Kahn 1993; Johnston-Cartee & White 1994; Robertson et al. 1999; Bystrom et al. 2004; Chang & Hitchon 2004). However, the results of previous studies are inconsistent and contradictory regarding the influence of candidate gender on advertising persuasiveness, e.g. whether gender stereotypes can be an asset or a liability. For example, voters would expect candidates to carry gender-congruent traits or issues (Rosenwasser et al. 1987; Rosenwasser & Dean 1989; Carpini & Fuchs 1993; Huddy & Terkildsen 1993a, 1993b; Matland 1994; Herrnson et al. 2003; Banwart & McKinney 2005). On the other hand, some researchers suggest that gendered information in the campaigns may not catch voters’ attention and lead to little persuasion (Huddy & Terkildsen 1993a, 1993b; Hitchon et al. 1997; Fox & Smith 1998; Bystrom & Kaid 2002; Bystrom et al. 2004). Gordon et al. (2003) suggested the importance of exploring potential moderating variables in explaining the effects of gender-based advertising.