Doctoral Research

Focusing on the UK, my doctoral research explores questions of whether UK politicians behave in accordance with traditional gender stereotypes, how the pressure to do so shifts by context and over time, and whether voters in the UK uphold these stereotypes when they perceive and evaluate politicians' behaviour. A commonly held perception is that stereotypical assumptions inform both the way that politicians behave in office, and also form the basis of voters' judgements about this behaviour. By contrast, the papers in this thesis use creative and theoretically informed advanced quantitative designs to provide novel insights that not only are the descriptive validity of prominent gender stereotypes for how elites behave considerably lower than they were in the past, but also that voters may not punish women in the way common theories of gender stereotyping may have predicted. Documenting when behaviour and attitudes run counter to widely held assumptions is important because it may help to both undermine and potentially update outdated stereotypical prescriptions and thereby diminish the degree to which voters are biased in their judgements.

In the first paper, "No Longer Conforming to Stereotypes? Gender, Political Style, and Parliamentary Debate in the UK" (joint with Jack Blumenau, forthcoming, British Journal of Political Science), I evaluate whether stereotypes serve as accurate behavioural descriptions of the ways in which MPs argue about politics in the UK House of Commons. Research on political style suggests that where women make arguments that are more emotional, empathetic and positive, men use language that is more analytical, aggressive and complex. However, existing work does not consider how gendered patterns of style vary over time. I argue that pressures for women politicians to conform to stereotypically "feminine" styles have diminished in recent years. To test this argument, I describe novel quantitative text analysis approaches for measuring a diverse set of styles at scale in political speech data. Analysing debates between 1997 and 2019, I show that women MPs' debating styles have changed substantially over time, as they have increasingly adopted stylistic traits that are typically associated with "masculine" stereotypes of communication. These findings imply that prominent gender-based stereotypes of politicians' behaviour are significantly worse descriptors of empirical reality now than they were in the past.

In my second PhD paper, "Earning Their Stripes? Gender, Political Experience, and Policy Prioritisation in Parliamentary Debate", I assess how political experience affects the issues men and women raise in parliamentary debate. Past work has emphasised that women are expected to focus more on "feminine" policy areas than men. While existing approaches have presented findings broadly consistent with this perspective, they have neglected to assess how this may change with increased political experience. I argue that while junior women parliamentarians who lack experience in the eyes of the public and their colleagues may feel pressured to talk only about a narrow set of issues stereotypically associated with women, this pressure diminishes as seniority increases. To test this argument, I study parliamentary debates between 1997 and 2019 and use quantitative text analysis approaches to measure the issues politicians raise. I find that, among junior politicians, women talk significantly more about "feminine" policy areas, however, this gender gap decreases markedly as parliamentary seniority increases. Further, this pattern is concentrated only among "feminine" policy areas, and not among the wider sets of issues politicians raise. These findings have important implications for understanding the pressures parliamentarians may face to "stay in their lane" with respect to the issues they champion across the course of their careers.

In my final paper, "A Double Standard? Gender Bias in Voters' Perceptions of Political Arguments" (revise and resubmit, British Journal of Political Science), I assess how the styles that politicians use influence how voters evaluate them, and whether this matters more for women than it does for men. Politicians regularly use anecdotal arguments, emotional appeals, and aggressive attacks when communicating with voters. However, that women politicians have been branded as "nasty", "inhuman", and "unfeminine" suggests these strategies may come at a price for some. I report on a novel survey experiment assessing whether voters are biased in their perceptions and evaluations of politicians' communication styles. By manipulating politician gender and argument style I assess, first, whether politicians incur backlash when violating gender-based stereotypes, and second, whether differential perceptions of the styles themselves explain this backlash. I find that style usage has important consequences for how voters evaluate politicians, but that this is not gendered. These results have important implications as they suggest that women politicians may not need to conform to stereotype-expected behaviours to receive positive voter evaluations.

Taken together, the papers in this thesis provide important theoretical arguments and empirical evidence concerning the temporal validity of gender stereotypes in informing elite and voter behaviour in the UK.