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Gender Attitudes and Candidate Preferences in the 2016 U.S. Presidential Primary and General Elections

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  15 June 2021

Meri T. Long
University of Pittsburgh
Ryan Dawe
Ohio State University
Elizabeth Suhay
American University


Scholars increasingly recognize that voters’ attitudes about gender shape their electoral preferences. Yet previous research has not captured important nuances of the relationship between gender attitudes and electoral choice. We argue that the effects of gender attitudes are not unidirectional and interact in complex ways with voters’ perceptions of candidates, depending not only on candidates’ sex but also on their gender-relevant characteristics and values. We draw on an original survey of Americans during the 2016 elections that measured three gender attitudes—hostile sexism, modern sexism, and traditional gender roles—and evaluations of primary and general election candidates. Our study design increases analytical leverage by examining actual and hypothetical candidate matchups. We find that among Democrats, hostile sexists were drawn to Bernie Sanders, but gender traditionalists preferred Hillary Clinton. Our results also suggest that if Sanders had been the Democratic nominee, gender egalitarians would have strongly supported him over Donald Trump, as they did Clinton.

Research Article
Copyright © The Author(s), 2021. Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of the Women, Gender, and Politics Research Section of the American Political Science Association

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We are grateful to Jennie Sweet-Cushman, Leonie Huddy, and Allison M. N. Archer for their helpful comments and discussion and to the three anonymous reviewers for their suggestions.



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