In September, when Donald Trump, then the Republican presidential nominee, was trailing behind former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in the polls, I wrote an article for Foreign Affairs predicting that his only path to victory would be to temper his overwhelming masculinity with some softer, more feminine messaging. As it turned out, Trump remained as masculine as ever and now he is our president-elect.
Before Trump’s upset, I discussed the effect of “gendered personality traits” on both voting patterns and campaign messaging. I defined a person’s gendered personality as “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.”
Gendered personality is correlated with partisan voting patterns—the masculine tend to vote Republican and the feminine lean Democratic. Most Americans, however, are neither overwhelmingly masculine nor feminine but possess some mix of both traits, and so it is best for candidates to appeal to both. Trump’s victory questions whether that theory still holds.
Studies of how the gendered personality traits of presidential candidates interact with the gendered traits of voters are new but not unprecedented. For example, experimental research by Leonie Huddy and Nayda Terkildsen has shown that voters prefer masculine traits in their elected officials, especially at higher levels of office. The political scientists Richard Fox and Zoe Oxley have further demonstrated that each type of elected office has a different gendered stereotype attached to it, with individuals ascribing the most masculine characteristics, such as leadership and independence, to executive offices and the duties they entail. All of these findings suggest that presidential candidates need to possess strong masculine personalities in order to win the highest office in the land.
But Trump is certainly an outlier, since he embodied such masculinity in excess. He was aggressive, competitive, and
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