Skip to main content Accessibility help

Is It Gender, Religiosity or Both? A Role Congruity Theory of Candidate Electability in Transitional Tunisia

  • Lindsay J. Benstead, Amaney A. Jamal and Ellen Lust


Do voters regard male and female candidates equally? Does apparent religiosity of candidates help or hurt their electoral chances? Where biases exist, what explains them? We present a novel explanation of political bias, drawing from role congruity theory. It posits that political contexts shape citizens' perceptions of qualities that make a “capable leader,” which subsequently drives their willingness to vote for candidates. Evidence from a survey experiment embedded in the 2012 Tunisian Post-Election Survey demonstrates that this theory explains biases based on gender and religiosity better than dominant modernization and social identity theories. Moreover, these mechanisms are also likely to drive political biases related to other features and in other countries. This has important implications for policymakers aiming to reduce political biases in Tunisia, the MENA, or globally. It should encourage them to pay careful attention to stereotyped traits of underrepresented groups and successful leaders, and to use institutional solutions (e.g., electoral quotas) to shape expectations about underrepresented groups and leadership.



Hide All
Angrist, Michele. 2012. “War, Resisting the West, and Women’s Labor: Toward an Understanding of Arab Exceptionalism.” Politics and Gender 8(1): 5182.
Arceneaux, Kevin. 2001. “The ‘Gender Gap’ in State Legislative Representation: New Data to Tackle an Old Question.” Political Research Quarterly 54(1): 143160.
Bauer, Nichole M. 2013. “Rethinking Stereotype Reliance.” Politics and the Life Sciences 32(1): 2242.
Beaman, Lori, Chattopadhyay, Raghabendra, Duflo, Esther, Pande, Rohini, and Topalova, Petia. 2009. “Powerful Women: Does Exposure Reduce Bias?Journal of Quarterly Economics 124(4): 1497–540.
Beaman, Lori, Pande, Rohini, and Cirone, Alexandra. 2012. “Politics as a Male Domain and Empowerment in India.” In The Impact of Gender Quotas, ed. Franceschet, Susan, Krook, Mona Lena, and Piscopo, Jennifer M.. New York: Oxford University Press.
Benstead, Lindsay J. 2011. “Do Gender Quotas Affect Popular Support for Women as Good Political Leaders? A Cross-National Study of Gender Quotas and Political Attitudes in the Muslim World.” Presented at “Beyond the Numbers: The Effects of Electoral Gender Quotas,” Washington University in St. Louis, MO, May 12–14, 2011.
Benstead, Lindsay J. 2014a. “Effects of Interviewer-Respondent Gender Interaction on Attitudes toward Women and Politics: Findings from Morocco.” International Journal of Public Opinion Research. 26(3): 369383.
Benstead, Lindsay J. 2014b. “Does Interviewer Dress Affect Survey Responses? Evidence from Morocco.” Politics & Religion. Available at, accessed October 12, 2014.
Benstead, Lindsay, Lust, Ellen, Malouche, Dhafer, Soltan, Gamal, and Wichmann, Jakob. 2013. “Islamists Aren’t the Obstacle: How to Build Democracy in Egypt and Tunisia.” Foreign Affairs. Available at, accessed February 14, 2013.
Blaydes, Lisa, and Gillum, Rachel M.. 2013. “Religiosity-of-Interviewer Effects: Assessing the Impact of Veiled Enumerators on Survey Response in Egypt.” Politics and Religion 6: 459–82.
Brand, Laurie A. 1998.Women, the State, and Political Liberalization: Middle Eastern and North African Experiences. New York: Columbia University Press.
Brewer, Marilynn B. 1979. “Ingroup Bias in the Minimal Intergroup Situation: A Cognitive-Motivational Analysis.” Psychological Bulletin 86(March): 307–24.
Burns, Nancy, Schlozman, Kay Lehman, and Verba, Sidney. 2001. The Private Roots of Public Action: Gender, Equality, and Political Participation. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Calfano, Brian R., and Djupe, Paul A.. 2011. “Not in His Image: The Moderating Effect of Gender on Religious Appeals.” Politics and Religion 4(2): 338–54.
Charrad, Mounira. 1998. “Cultural Diversity within Islam: Veils and Laws in Tunisia.” In Women in Muslim Societies: Diversity within Unity, ed. Bodman, H.L. and Tohidi, N.. Boulder, CO: Lynne Reinner.
Charrad, Mounira. 2000. “Becoming a Citizen: Lineage versus Individual in Tunisia and Morocco.” In Gender and Citizenship in the Middle East, ed. Joseph, Suad. Syracuse: Syracuse University Press.
Charrad, Mounira. 2001. States and Women's Rights: The Making of Postcolonial Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Charrad, Mounira. 2011. “Gender in the Middle East: Islam, State, Agency.” Annual Review of Sociology 37(1): 417–37.
Ciftci, Sabri. 2010. “Modernization, Islam, or Social Capital: What Explains Attitudes toward Democracy in the Muslim World?Comparative Political Studies 43(11): 1442–70.
Cunningham, Mick. 2008. “Changing Attitudes toward the Male Breadwinner, Female Homemaker Model,” Social Forces 87(1): 299323.
Demirgüç-Kunt, Asli, Klapper, Leora and Singer, Dorothe. 2013. “Financial Inclusion and Legal Discrimination against Women: Evidence from Developing Economies.” About Finance blog, World Bank. Available at , accessed August 5, 2014.
Deutsch, Francine M., LeBaron, Dorothy, and Fryer, Maury March. 1987. “What Is in a Smile?Psychology of Women Quarterly 11(3): 341–51.
Deutsch, Karl. 1971. “Social Mobilization and Political Development.” In Political Development and Social Change, ed. Finkle, Jason and Gable, Richard. New York: John Wiley.
Diehl, Claudia, Koening, Mattias, and Ruckdeschel, Kerstin. 2009. “Religiosity and Gender Equality: Comparing Natives and Muslim Migrants in Germany.” Ethnic and Racial Studies 32(2): 278301.
Dolan, Kathleen. 1998. “Voting for Women in the ‘Year of the Woman.’American Journal of Political Science 42(1): 272–93.
Dolan, Kathleen. 2004a. “The Impact of Candidate Sex on Evaluations of Candidates for the U.S. House of Representatives.” Social Science Quarterly 85(1): 206–17.
Dolan, Kathleen. 2004b. Voting for Women: How the Public Evaluates Women Candidates. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.
Dolan, Kathleen. 2010. “The Impact of Gender Stereotyped Evaluations on Support for Women Candidates.” Political Behavior 32(1): 6988.
Eagly, Alice H. 1987. Sex Differences in Social Behavior: A Social-Role Interpretation. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Eagly, Alice H., and Carli, Linda. 2007. Through the Labyrinth: The Truth about How Women become Leaders. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press.
Eagly, Alice H., and Karau, Steven J.. 2002. “Role Congruity Theory of Prejudice toward Female Leaders.” Psychological Review 109(3): 573–98.
Eagly, Alice H., Makhijani, Mona, and Klonsky, Bruce G.. 1992. “Gender and the Evaluation of Leaders: A Meta-Analysis.” Psychological Bulletin 112(3): 557–57.
Eagly, Alice H., and Mladinic, Antonio. 1989. “Gender Stereotypes and Attitudes toward Women and Men.” Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 15(4): 543–58.
Fish, Steven. M. 2002. “Islam and Authoritarianism.” World Politics 55(1): 437.
Fox, Richard L., and Lawless, Jennifer L.. 2004. “Entering the Arena? Gender and the Decision to Run for Office.” American Journal of Political Science 48(2): 264–80.
Goulding, Kristine. 2010. “The Quandary of Gender Quotas in Tunisia: Representations and Perceptions at the Local Level.” Center of Arab Women for Training and Research (CAWTAR)- United Nations International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women (UN-INSTRAW). Tunis, Tunisia.
Higgle, Ellen D. B., Miller, Penny M., Shields, Todd G., and Johnson, Mitzi M. S.. 1997. “Gender Stereotypes and Decision Context in the Evaluation of Political Candidates.” Women & Politics 17(3): 6988.
Hughes, Melanie M. 2013. “The Intersection of Gender and Minority Status in National Legislatures: The Minority Women Legislative Index.” Legislative Studies Quarterly 38(4): 489516.
Inglehart, Ronald. 1989. Culture Shift in Advanced Industrial Society. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Inglehart, Ronald, and Norris, Pippa. 2003a. Rising Tide: Gender Equality and Cultural Change around the World. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Inglehart, Ronald, and Norris, Pippa. 2003b. “The True Clash of Civilizations.” Foreign Policy 135: 6270.
Kahn, Kim Fridkin. 1996. The Political Consequences of Being a Woman: How Stereotypes Influence the Conduct and Consequences of Political Campaigns. New York: Columbia University Press.
Kelly, Sania. 2010a. “Hard-won Progress and a Long Road Ahead: Women’s Rights in the Middle East and North Africa.” Women’s Rights in the Middle East and North Africa. Washington, DC: Freedom House.
Kelly, Sania. 2010b. “Recent Gains and New Opportunities for Women’s Rights in the Gulf Arab States.” Women’s Rights in the Middle East and North Africa: Gulf Edition. Washington, DC: Freedom House.
Koch, Jeffrey W. 2000. “Do Citizens Apply Gender Stereotypes to Infer Candidates' Ideological Orientations?Journal of Politics 62(2): 414–29.
Konad, Alison, and Cannings, Kathy. 1997. “The Effects of Gender Role Congruence and Statistical Discrimination on Managerial Advancement.” Human Relations 50(10): 1305–28.
La France, Marianne, Hecht, Marvin A., Paluck, Elizabeth Levy. 2003. “The Contingent Smile: A Meta-Analysis of Sex Differences in Smiling.” Psychological Bulletin 129(2): 305–34.
Lawless, Jennifer. 2004. “Women, War, and Winning Elections: Gender Stereotyping in the Post-September 11th Era.” Political Research Quarterly 57(3): 479–90.
Lawless, Jennifer L., and Fox, Richard Logan. 2010. It Still Takes a Candidate: Why Women Don't Run for Office. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Lerner, Daniel. 1958. The Passing of Traditional Society: Modernizing the Middle East. Glencoe, IL: Free Press.
Lipset, Seymour Martin. 1959. “Some Social Requisites of Democracy: Economic Development and Political Legitimacy.” American Political Science Review 53(1): 69105.
Mahmood, Saba. 2005. Politics of Piety: The Islamic Revival and the Feminist Subject. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Masoud, Tarek. 2014. Counting Islam: Religion, Class and Election. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
McConnaughy, Corrine M., White, Ismail K., Leal, David L., and Casellas, Jason P.. 2010. “A Latino on the Ballot: Explaining Coethnic Voting among Latinos and the Response of White Americans.” Journal of Politics 72(4): 1199–211.
McDermott, Monika L. 1997. “Voting Cues in Low-Information Elections: Candidate Gender as a Social Information Variable in Contemporary United States Elections.” American Journal of Political Science 41(1): 270–83.
McDermott, Monika L. 1998. “Race and Gender Cues in Low-Information Elections.” Political Research Quarterly 51(4): 895918.
McDermott, Monika L. 2007. “Voting for Catholic Candidates: The Evolution of a Stereotype.” Social Science Quarterly 88(4): 953–67.
Moghadam, Valentine M. 2003. Modernizing Women Gender and Social Change in the Middle East. 2nd ed. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press.
Moghadam, Valentine M. 2004. “Towards Gender equality in the Arab/Middle East Region: Islam, Culture and Feminist Activism.”United Nations Development Program. Available at, accessed August 5, 2014.
Norrander, Barbara and Wilcox, Clyde. 2009. “The Gender Gap in Ideology.” Political Behavior 30(4): 503523.
Norris, Pippa. 2009. “Why Do Arab States Lag the World in Gender Equality?” HKS Faculty Research Working Paper Series RWP09-020, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University.
Olmsted, Jennifer. 2002. “Assessing the Impact of Religion on Gender Status.” Feminist Economics 8(3): 99111.
Otto, Emma, Abrosio, Fabiana Follado, and Hoshino, R. L.. 1996. “Reading a Smiling Face: Messages Conveyed by Various Forms of Smiling.” Perceptual and Motor Skills 82: 1111–21.
Ritter, Barbara A., and Yoder, Janice D.. 2004. “Gender Differences in Leader Emergence Persist Even for Dominant Women: An Updated Confirmation of Role Congruity Theory.” Psychology of Women Quarterly 28: 187–93.
Rizzo, Helen, Abdel-Latif, Abdel-Hamid, and Meyer, Katherine. 2007. “The Relationship between Gender Equality and Democracy: A Comparison of Arab versus Non-Arab Muslim Societies.” Sociology 41(6): 1151–70.
Ross, Michael. 2008. “Oil, Islam and Women.” American Political Science Review 102(1): 107–23.
Rudman, Laurie A., and Glick, Peter. 2008. The Social Psychology of Gender: How Power and Intimacy Shape Gender Relations. New York: Guilford Press.
Sabbagh, Amal. 2005. “Case Study—The Arab States: enhancing Women’s Political Participation.” In Women in Parliament: Beyond Numbers, ed. Ballington, Julie and Karam, Azza. Stockholm: IDEA.
Schneider, Bill. 2013. “Egypt: Elections Do Not Make a Democracy.” Reuters., July 8, 2013. Available at, accessed August 5, 2014.
Soneshine, Tara. 2013. “Women in a Changing Middle East.” Address to the Brookings Institution. Available at∼/media/events/2013/4/04%20women%20middle%20east/20130404_women_middle_east_transcript.pdf ,accessed August 5, 2014.
Tajfel, Henri. 1978. Differentiation between Social Groups: Studies in the Social Psychology of Intergroup Relations. New York: Academic Press.
Tamanna, Nowrin. 2008Personal Status Laws in Morocco and Tunisia: A Comparative Exploration of the Possibilities for Equality-Enhancing Reform in Bangladesh.” Feminist Legal Studies 16(3): 323–43.
Tessler, Mark, and Gao, Eleanor. 2008. “Democracy and the Political Culture Orientations of Ordinary Citizens: A Typology for the Arab World and Beyond.” International Social Science Journal 59(192): 197207.
United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). 2002. Arab Human Development Report. Available at, accessed August 5, 2014.
United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). 2005. Human Development Report. Available at, accessed August 5, 2014.
UN Women. 2013. UN WOMEN for Arab States & the Committee on Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW Committee) Regional Consultation for the Proposed General Recommendation on Women Human Rights in Situations of Conflict and Post Conflict contexts. Available at, accessed August 5, 2014.
Verba, Sidney, Burns, Nancy, and Schlozman, Kay Lehman. 1997. “Knowing and Caring about Politics: Gender and Political Engagement.” Journal of Politics 59(4): 1051–72.
World Bank. 2012. “Gender Differences in Employment and Why They Matter.” World Development Report 2012: Gender, Equality and Development., Washington, DC: World Bank. Available at, accessed August 5, 2014.
World Economic Forum. 2013. Global Gender Gap Report 2013. Geneva, Switzerland: World Economic Forum. Available at, accessed August 5, 2013.
Type Description Title
Supplementary materials

Benstead Supplementary Material

 Word (275 KB)
275 KB


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed