Heuristics are used in politics as a way for citizens to “shortcut” their way of thinking in order to vote. The main heuristic that is used in politics is the “image heuristic” which means that when a candidate walks into a room, they are immediately judged based off their hair, height, weight, and outfit but most importantly, their gender. Constituents use this in order to make their decision on who to vote for if they aren’t educated on the candidates policies or just politics in general. Gender, after doing research, is an ultimate factor in the decision making process. On both ends, the candidates running are judged on their gender and this helps citizens decide on whether or not they want to vote for them. Yes, I know that this sounds insane but that’s what people do in order to develop “shortcuts” on voting.
Many different experiments have been done to prove this; making up fake ballots and showing pictures to a group of people or putting pictures of the candidates on the ballot itself have been a few ways. If someone isn’t educated on a certain candidate and their policies, then this heuristic is something they can focus on. For example, in the presidential election of 2013, between Romney and Obama, many focused on their appearance. According to Wynn Parry of Live Science, people saw Romney as intimidating and aggressive, where as Obama was seen having childlike and feminine features, making him more approachable and less aggressive. Now if we look at a female candidate and a male candidate competing against each other it is much different; voters look at gender in a much different light.
When looking at a female versus a male, some traits are noticed because of the history of men and women. For example, because women have always been known to have more of the caring and compassionate qualities, voters tend to remember this in elections. No matter what, if a women is internally aggressive, on the outside all voters know is care and compassion. Dolan and Lynch (2014) also believe this to be true and say that candidates are judged on this idea of “gendered perspective”. This can be a positive or negative thing for both sexes; if someone is strictly voting because of “gendered perspective” then they have already made up their mind of who they believe would be a better candidate. This doesn’t give the candidate the opportunity to explain their policies and their different qualities.
This was seen a lot throughout this recent election between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. Many voters believed that Clinton thought the presidency was “owed to her” just because she was a women. She was also targeted for being unapproachable and harsh because, as seen above, women are supposed to be compassionate and caring. So either voters didn’t like that she wasn’t “compassionate” or voters didn’t like that this election win was “owed to her”. Same goes for Donald Trump, many used the debates as a way for knocking his “gentlemen-like” abilities because he would interrupt Clinton or stand over her. In retrospect, I would argue that Trump would do this with any candidate, he was used to being the center of attention.
Now, what about the difference between the genders that are voting? Matthew Bergbower studies this in his “Correct Voting In Senate Elections”. Berbower believes that it is all about how the voters perceive the candidates. Many women believe that a women candidate would support whatever they believed in because they are female. This can have a negative affect because if the voter believes in “pro-choice” they may believe that because of their gender; the female candidate may also believe in “pro choice”; however, if the candidate disagrees with them and the voter has already voted, then they are voting for someone to represent them that doesn’t have the same ideology. Bergbower states, “the congressional elections of 1992 were characterized as the Year of the Woman may have led women voters who voted for a female Democratic candidate to make an easy, accurate decision at the ballot box” (p.28). This goes to show that women voted for the female candidate because for once, they finally had a voice and wanted to continue their streak by voting in a female candidate without knowing what she stood for. This also goes for men as well, if a man is aggressive and believes in the qualities possessed by men then of course they will vote for the male candidate. If they want someone who they think will get the job done, they will vote for the male because men are seen as possessing those traits. They wouldn’t vote for the more compassionate and caring candidate because they may take longer to get something done.
On both ends of the spectrum, whether behind the ballot or in front of it, gender will always be a heuristic used by voters. Yes, it may not be the “ultimate” decision making factor, but it will play some type of role. There will always be that perspective on genders and whether or not they have all of the qualities in order to make a good leader; there will also be the voters who vote based on who they believe will represent them better. Either way this specific heuristic can be a positive and negative due to the fact that unless you really know and understand the candidate, or until you’re fully educated on the policies they are running on, you can’t make a precise judgement of someone without studying them. Heuristics will always be used but aren’t the best solution in helping fill up your ballot.