Women's blame, men's merit? An experimental test of the impact of performance information on the prevalence of political gender stereotypes in Flanders (Belgium)

Robin Devroe, Ghent University


Previous research aimed at untangling the issue of womenโ€™s political underrepresentation has found that women face various barriers when trying to enter and thrive in the world of politics (Celis & Meier, 2006; Matland, 2005). One of the reasons why political parties and voters were initially unwilling to support the equal representation of men and women in politics was based on conservative gender role attitudes and gender stereotypes (Huddy & Terkildsen, 1993). More recent research lines posit that stereotype reliance is not an automatic process, but rather a contextually dependent process (Blair, 2002). Voters are found to only use feminine stereotypes when they receive information about a candidate that matches these feminine stereotypes. In the electoral context, stereotype activation consequently depends on the type of information voters have about a candidate and on the context in which political candidates come forward. This study focuses on contextual elements as potential activator of political gender stereotypes. More specifically, the framing of performance information will be taken into account. We distinguish between three types of performance outcomes: negative performance (conditions worsened), neutral performance (no change in prevailing conditions) and positive performance (conditions improved). In line with the retrospective judgments literature, the expectation is that voters will respond favourably to executives associated with positive performance and respond negatively to executives associated with negative performance. Given that voters believe that men are more agentic than women, we expect that voters are more likely to treat men as more responsible than women for changes that occur during their tenure. Following from this, we expect that positive performance will have a stronger positive effect for male executives (H1a) and that negative performance will have a stronger negative effect for male executives (H1b).