ANN ARBOR?Democrats and Republicans are polarized on many issues, including gender and equity, and the divide in their support of women candidates can be traced to attitudes regarding workplace gender discrimination, a new study shows.
Researchers at the University of Michigan and four other universities surveyed 800 delegates at the national party conventions in 2008. They found that Democrats who thought sex discrimination was a serious workplace problem tended to be more supportive of Hillary Clinton than they were of her competitor, Barack Obama.
Among Republicans, former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin received more positive evaluations (compared with her running mate, John McCain) from delegates who believed sex discrimination was no longer a problem
These partisan differences remain salient in 2016, especially how the current presidential candidates seek support of women voters, says Michael Heaney, U-M assistant professor of organizational studies and political science.
"Our 2008 findings are a manifestation of an important and overlooked gendered component of the partisan polarization that has come to characterize American politics over the past three decades," he said.
The survey-conducted at the Democratic convention in Denver and the Republican convention in St. Paul, Minn.’helped researchers to understand party delegates’ attitudes about gender issues.
"We found, interestingly, that the delegates’ own sex had little to do with their attitudes toward the candidates," said lead author Elizabeth Sharrow, assistant professor of political science and history at the University of Massachusetts. "Democratic women were neither more nor less supportive of Clinton than were Democratic men, and Republican women and men supported Palin at comparable rates."
Female candidates represent different things to activists within each party, the researchers said.
"Our findings suggest that the message and the vision about gender a candidate would use to appeal to Democrats is precisely the opposite one would use to appeal to Republicans," Heaney said. "Making gains with one group may incur losses from the other."
The study’s other authors were Dara Strolovitch of Princeton University, Seth Masket, of the University of Denver and Joanne Miller of the University of Minnesota. The findings appear in the Journal of Women, Politics & Policy.