Sarah Palin, the Republican nominee for Vice President in the 2008 election, was only the second major party female nominee for the office of vice president in U.S. history and the first for the Republican Party. While criticized extensively by the left and the conservative intellectual elite, Palin's conservative credentials were never questioned and she was embraced by many grass-roots conservatives. Palin's strong conservatism and Republican partisan credentials stand in stark contrast to most female politicians, who overwhelmingly and increasingly hail from the Democratic Party in both state and national politics.
The central puzzle of this project is to determine how voters react to the competing stereotypes that conservative female Republican candidates, like Sarah Palin, must endure. The gender stereotype - that females are considered to be more empathetic, caring, and compassionate - is in conflict with the partisan stereotype - that Republicans are believed to possess more strength and leadership. Which stereotypes do voters apply, and how does that differ based on their own gender or partisan identity? Specifically, how do voters' own gender and party identification shape ratings of a conservative female candidate's traits and ideology, as well as the impact of each on vote choice and candidate evaluation?
Two public opinion surveys are utilized to answer these questions - a survey of Minnesotans and a national survey of women. The Minnesota data revealed that a citizen's gender and party identification shape their perceptions of Sarah Palin's traits, ideology, and overall evaluations. While party identification is the strongest predictor, gender did have some impact. Furthermore, the differences in how Palin is rated on her traits and ideology had significant impacts on overall evaluations of her, as measured by presidential vote choice and evaluations of her performance in the vice presidential debate. Nationally, women's party identification shape their perceptions of Sarah Palin's traits and policy issue agreement. In addition, there is a strong relationship between party identification and overall evaluations, but this relationship is overshadowed when trait ratings or policy position agreement are included in the model. The strong, significant effects of party identification on overall evaluations disappear on measures of Palin's favorability measure and opinions of McCain's choice of Palin, but remain significant on vote for McCain.
Both traits and policy position agreement have a significant impact on overall evaluations of Palin. And while the effects of party remain directly significant on vote for McCain in the presence of these variables, it appears they are indirectly significant for evaluations of McCain's choice of Palin as his vice presidential running mate on issue positions, and, to a lesser extent, trait ratings. Different traits and policy issues have significant impacts on McCain's choice of Palin for Republicans and Democrats.