News coverage of female politicians focuses on personality, males on the issues

Traits versus Issues: How Female Candidates Shape Coverage of Senate and Gubernatorial Race

From Political Research Quarterly

With more and more women representing the 50 states on Capitol Hill every year, many have noted that female politicians are not given the same treatment as males in the media. This study from a special mini symposium finds that news coverage of female politicians focuses more on character traits and less on their policy arguments than it does for their male counterparts.

“There is clear variation across [poltical] races in terms of the focus of news stories. In line with the previous literature and our own expectations, on the whole, races with female candidates are more likely to feature trait stories than male versus male races” stated the authors. Data was collected from approximately 10,000 newspaper articles covering statewide elections and analysed. The researchers concluded, “Races with a female candidate lead to news that is more focused on the personal traits and characteristics of the candidates, and this finding is especially stark for gubernatorial campaigns.”



As female candidates may face greater challenges in establishing their “qualifications” for office, coverage of their personal traits may be pernicious, because it tends to de-emphasize substantive qualifications. This study focuses on relative amounts of trait and issue coverage of contests with and without women candidates. We find that races with female candidates yield more coverage of traits than male versus male contests and races with female candidates are less likely to generate issue coverage than trait coverage. Candidate gender and office interact; female gubernatorial candidates are most likely to garner trait coverage and least likely to engender issue coverage.

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Article details
Johanna Dunaway, Regina G. Lawrence, Melody Rose, & Christopher R. Weber (2013). Traits versus Issues: How Female Candidates Shape Coverage of Senate and Gubernatorial Races Political Research Quarterly DOI: 10.1177/1065912913491464

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