Mike Blake / Reuters U.S. Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton at a "Women for Hillary" event in Utah, June 2016.

Gendered Votes

How Personality Affects Politics

When Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump declares, “When somebody challenges you unfairly, fight back—be brutal, be tough,” and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton talks about trying to “empathize” with our country’s enemies, they are appealing to one of the most basic aspects of voters’ identity: their gendered personality. Trump appeals to the masculine side of human nature, with its emphasis on fighting and winning. Clinton more frequently plays to the feminine side by emphasizing compassion and community. Only one of these candidates, Clinton, appeals to both masculine and feminine sides, and voters are responding accordingly.

GENDERED POLITICS

A century of research in psychology has analyzed the existence of gendered personalities, or the relative presence in any given individual of masculine and feminine personality traits. So-called masculine traits include aggression, competitiveness, dominance, independence, and a willingness to defend one’s beliefs. Typical feminine traits are compassion, tenderness, warmth, sensitivity to the needs of others, and eagerness to soothe hurt feelings. By measuring these traits, scholars can quantify the levels of femininity and masculinity within a given personality. The most popular measure, the Bem Sex Role Inventory (BSRI), assesses individuals’ self-reported levels of different traits in order to categorize their gendered personality. 

Previous research has found that most people’s personalities are both masculine and feminine and that gendered personality does not always correspond to sex. A person of either sex can hold high levels of one set of traits but not the other, high levels of both sets, or low levels of both. For convenience, individuals are generally assigned to one of four gendered personality categories based on their levels of gendered traits relative to the median. Feminine personalities have high levels of feminine traits and low levels of masculine traits. Masculine personalities are the opposite. Individuals who have high levels of both masculine and feminine traits are dubbed androgynous, and those with low levels of both are called undifferentiated.

Psychologists studying gendered personalities have found that they affect everything from

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