Implicit Prejudice Revealed: Opposition to a Woman President

Public opinion polls show consistently that a substantial portion of the American public would vote for a qualified female presidential candidate. Because of the controversial nature of such questions, however, the responses may suffer from social desirability effects. In other words, respondents may be purposely giving false answers as not to violate societal norms. Using an unobtrusive measure called the “list experiment,” we find that public opinion polls are indeed exaggerating support for a female president. Roughly 26 percent of the public is “angry or upset” about the prospect of a female president. Moreover, this level of dissatisfaction is constant across several demographic groups.

That is from an interesting new paper by Matthew Streb, Barbara Burrell, Brian Frederick, and Michael Genovese (gated here, ungated here).

Here’s the experiment, which was conducted in a March 2006 poll. One half of the sample is asked how many of the following things make them angry or upset.

  • The way gasoline prices keep going up.
  • Professional athletes getting million dollar-plus salaries.
  • Requiring seat belts to be used when driving.
  • Large corporations polluting the environment.

Then the second half of the sample is asked the same question, with one additional item on the list:

  • A woman serving as president.

The difference across the two groups in the mean number of “things that make you upset” gives us the percent of the public that is upset about a woman president. That fraction—26%—is much larger than extant polling would lead you to believe.

Notably, the percent who are upset does not vary much based on respondents’ gender, level of education or income, age, or region. The only remaining question is whether it varies by party identification, to see whether people who read “A woman serving as president” are really thinking “Hillary Clinton serving as president.” Unfortunately, the survey did not include a measure of party identification. However, it’s worth noting, as Sreb et al. do, that generic polling questions have not revealed any recent decline in the fraction who would vote for a woman president, despite Clinton’s candidacy.

There is more interesting discussion in the paper. See also here for a list experiment that reveals substantial racial prejudice.

6 Responses to Implicit Prejudice Revealed: Opposition to a Woman President

  1. Tom Holbrook April 9, 2008 at 11:39 am #

    I have absolutely no problem believing that there is more opposition to a female president than is typically revealed in the standard, flawed survey question, and that the list experiment is a great way of getting at the underlying issue. I also think we should take very seriously the criticism that adding “a woman serving as president” to the list in the current period would make it very difficult to tell if respondents are reacting to candidate sex or to Hillary Clinton. At the same time, given that the survey was administered in March, 2006, the “Hillary factor” may not have played as great a role as it certainly would if the survey were administered today.

  2. Matt Jarvis April 9, 2008 at 6:52 pm #

    Separating the issue from Hillary is well-nigh impossible for the last few years. Remember how many pundits put forward the theory that Clark was a “stalking horse” for HRC in 2004? The depth of dislike for this particular woman from some quarters is huge. Of course, that begs the question “WHY is dislike for her so intense?” which may have to do with her being the first female candidate with a shot at the nomination…a bit of a Catch-22.

  3. Ben Clark April 10, 2008 at 9:20 am #

    I’ve found that down here in the south that some conservative folks fed up with the Bush era were willing to vote for a more liberal John Edwards (2008 version) than vote for a women or a black man. My poll is far far from scientific, just acquaintances and such…but interesting to me. Some people are just stuck in the white-man-as-leader ideology.

  4. Dan Tarrant April 10, 2008 at 9:33 am #

    Hey John…I had forgotten you were blogging now but this entry was linked yesterday by Kevin Drum at Washington Monthly. Didn’t know if you were aware of that.

    I’ll have to bookmark the Monkey Cage and occasionally find some reasons to disagree with you!

    Take care.

  5. Dan Tarrant April 11, 2008 at 9:02 am #

    As for the study, exactly how could somebody know if a female President would make them angry or not, since it’s not happened yet? The other four questions are about things that people have actually experienced.

    Is there much value in asking people to speculate on how a totally hypothetical situation might make them feel?

    Now, the pathology/racism of people who are angered by the salaries made by a handful of pro athletes…that would make for an interesting study!

  6. Robert W. April 15, 2008 at 6:03 am #

    If & when Condoleezza Rice runs for President or VP then we’ll finally see if America is a sexist or racist country on the whole. With great certainty, I predict not.