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05-03-2021 | Original Paper

The Electoral Costs and Benefits of Feminism in Contemporary American Politics

Journal:
Political Behavior
Authors:
Marzia Oceno, Nicholas A. Valentino, Carly Wayne
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Supplementary Information

The online version contains supplementary material available at https://​doi.​org/​10.​1007/​s11109-021-09692-z.

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Abstract

Sexism and feminism are often seen as opposing belief systems on a single dimension in American politics. Gender scholars, however, have noticed that these forces are not equal and opposite. The 2016 election represents a critical case for examining how gender-related attitudes and identities push and pull voters. Hillary Clinton was the first female presidential nominee of a major party and a self-proclaimed feminist facing an opponent considered by many to be hostile to women. As such, many observers predicted a substantial increase in the gender gap. However, the gap did not widen much compared to previous races, and nearly half of women chose Trump. Why? We argue that sexism – as commonly measured – mixes attitudes about women in general with those about feminists in particular. When feminism becomes salient, as in 2016, attitudes about this subgroup become more relevant to the vote. Relying on three studies – a 2016 survey on SSI, the 2018 CCES, and the 2016 ANES, we assess the role of anti-feminist attitudes and feminist identity across gender, race, and party. We find that sexism directed against feminists powerfully dampened support for Clinton across genders. However, feminist identity was much less common in the electorate, and had little effect on men’s votes. Thus, although countervailing, these two forces are not equivalent. In 2016, the benefit of appealing to feminists was overwhelmed by the cost of activating voters who intensely dislike the group. These results reveal a consequential imbalance in the power of sexism and feminism in U.S. politics.

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