“Why Not a Woman?”: A Study of How the Media Portrays Women Vice Presidential Candidates

Name: Abigail McFarren
Major: Political Science—U.S. National Politics Focus
Minor: History
Advisors: Dr. Angie Bos, Dr. Dr. Avi Muñoz (Second Reader)

The purpose of this research study is to learn more about the stereotypic media coverage of women vice presidential candidates. The areas of focus are their traits, issues, ability to win (horse race), and qualifications. The question I ask is how does media coverage of women vice presidential candidates differ from similar men vice presidential candidates in the areas described above? Past scholars have looked at these areas of difference between men and women legislative candidates and found the media to have engaged in stereotypic coverage, but they have not examined media coverage of vice presidential candidates. In order to fill this gap, I conduct an automated content analysis of New York Times articles about each of the three major party, women VP candidates, Geraldine Ferraro, Sarah Palin, and Kamala Harris, compared to similar men candidates, Lloyd Bentsen, Paul Ryan, and Joe Biden. I find that the media does engage in stereotypic coverage of issues and qualifications but find mixed results for traits and horse race. The media gave less masculine and general issue coverage and more feminine issue coverage for women compared to men. Women candidates also received less media coverage of their qualifications than men candidates. The media engaging in gender stereotypes can affect how voters view candidates and can help perpetuate the underrepresentation of women in elected office.

Posted in Comments Enabled, Independent Study, Symposium 2022 on April 26, 2022.

16 responses to ““Why Not a Woman?”: A Study of How the Media Portrays Women Vice Presidential Candidates”

  1. Angie Bos says:

    This turned out so great, Abby! It is so cool to see how your great work my Women, Power and Politics and Media & Politics courses came together in your IS project. I love how you conquered the content analysis and were able to do such a comprehensive analysis across candidates. Well done! -Prof. Bos

  2. Cathy Semel says:

    This is such great work! And I like that you chose The NY Times, which may perform better than most!

  3. Michael Semel says:

    Abby—-I loved your use of this content analysis approach to better understand how bias plays out in media. Media coverage of so many political issues over these past 6 years seems to created almost alternative realities for many in our country. Your work made me wonder how your findings would have been similar or different when comparing “liberal” NY Times coverage with coverage in “conservative” media sources. Great work with this project.

  4. Michael Semel says:

    Abby—-I loved your use of content analysis as a strategy for studying this issue. With media reporting over the past 6 years creating an environment where there are almost two completely different realities for many in this country, the issue of bias in media feels more important than ever. Curious if your results would have been similar or different in comparing “liberal” NY Times coverage to coverage of candidates in “conservative” media. Great job with this project.

  5. Lily Anderson says:

    This is so cool, Abby! I will definitely pay more attention to how media portrayal of candidates affects my views!

  6. Bas van Doorn says:

    Really interesting work, Abby!

  7. Barb Friedhoff says:

    Abby – Having recently benefitted from the Great Decisions presentation on truth in the media, I was equally benefitted from reading about your work. Like others, I am curious about how/if your findings would differ if using media sources across the partisan spectrum. I also wonder if female candidates across the board are portrayed differently by media that is not in their partisan camp.

    If you’re not going far away (😊) perhaps you could present this to the League of Women Voters? Critical thinking skills are so needed these days as consumers of news outlets.

    Big congratulations!!!

  8. Chan Sok Park says:

    Abby, thank you for sharing your exciting project here! As someone who has a former politician in his family, I found your works quite intriguing. Wishing you the best for what’s ahead in your life journey!

  9. Saralee says:

    Good job, Abby! Very proud of you!

  10. Rhiannon Johnson says:

    Congrats, Abby!! So proud of you – this was so interesting to read about!

  11. Alvaro Corral says:

    Abby: great study, glad to hear the the qualifications coverage is improving over time. Still hope there’s more progress!

  12. Hannah Groetsch says:

    Great job Abby! Thanks for being my NVivo buddy and forgiving us all some great VP content!

  13. Amy Groetsch says:

    Good job, Abby!

  14. Carly McWilliams says:

    Thanks for sharing your wonderful research, Abby! I will keep this lens in mind as more media coverage of Sarah Palin’s new campaign comes out!

  15. Carolyn Klein says:

    You’re the coolest, Abby! Super interesting research 🙂

  16. Abby McFarren says:

    Thank you all so much for your kind words and for checking out my project!

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