Document Type


Date of Degree

Summer 2013

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In

Political Science

First Advisor

Tolbert, Caroline J

First Committee Member

Redlawsk, David P

Second Committee Member

Osborn, Tracy

Third Committee Member

Rocha, Rene

Fourth Committee Member

Singer, Jane


How does digital media and online news, especially blogs, influence support for women congressional and presidential candidates? From work on traditional print and television news we know women are framed differently than men, and are more likely to be framed as women (appearance, clothing, mother or wife, marital status, sex, gendered issues). I argue the transition to digital media (blogs and online news) is exacerbating these trends, increasing gender stereotype opinions of women candidates in the mass public, among both men and women. In turn I find gender stereotype opinions combined with use of online media reduces the probability of voting for women candidates. While much of the literature on digital media focuses on the positives that come with increased political information, participation and mobilization, holding these factors constant, this research highlights a potential cost of digital media.

Much of what we know about the media and women candidates is based on content analysis of newspapers and television stories (Bystrom 20004; 2010a; 2010b; Iyengar et al1997; Lawrence and Rose 2010). The dominant literature on the impact of the mass media on women candidates is based on experimental framing studies with hypothetical female candidates. But media scholars are increasing interested in digital media and citizen journalism, as more Americans now read their news online than read a print newspaper. Davis (2009) and Sunstein (2007) find that journalists too are increasingly turning to the blogs for ideas and content that run on mainstream media. While citizen journalism has many benefits (see Shirky 2010), there is less fact checking with online news, where rumors can often masquerade as truth. Analysis of the coverage of Hillary Clinton's 2008 presidential run found that coverage of Clinton online, especially the blogs, was more sexist than mainstream media (Lawrence and Rose 2010; Richie 2013). For example, one group sold t-shirts and bumper stickers staying "Get Hillary Back in the Kitchen." Boystrum (2010) analyses how women and men presidential, congressional and gubernatorial candidates differ, and how this affects media coverage of the candidates. Using content analysis, she finds no gendered differences in the content of their websites. Thus this research focuses on blogs and online news rather than candidate websites.

No previous research has considered individual level data on use of online news for politics and whether this leads to gender stereotype opinions; nor has the existing research considered whether digital media use, combined believing in these stereotypes of women, impacts voting for women candidates in real election contexts. Rather than content analysis used in political communications or laboratory experiments often used in gender studies, this research relies on national survey data to measure the effect of digital media use for voting for women candidates in actual electoral campaigns. Combining large sample nationwide survey data of all congressional candidates running in 2008, 2010 and 2012, with a sample of Iowa caucus participants, and a unique national survey of primary voters, this research seeks to answer two primary questions. First, what is the effect of use of blog and online news on gendered stereotype opinion of women and male candidates (see Chapters 3 and 5)? Secondly, what is the combined effect of digital media use and gendered opinions in reducing support at the ballot box for women for the U.S. House or the president (see Chapters 4 and 6)? To consider the overall, or net effect, of digital media on support for women candidates, I incorporate the benefits of online news and communication to engage and mobilize the public.

Across many detailed analyses presented in this research, I find that reading blogs and online news generally increases the likelihood of forming opinions about women candidates colored by gender stereotypes, based on experience, knowledge, competency, integrity, strong leader, caring and more. In Chapter 3 I consider the case of Hillary Clinton and find that reading the news online and using online political information increased the belief that Clinton was less experienced, and was less trustworthy. In Chapter 4 I find that gender stereotype opinions and digital media use reduced favorability ratings of Clinton and Clinton compared to her male presidential contenders (Obama and Edwards). These two factors also reduced the probably of voting for her, holding other factors constant. Chapter 5 analyses all U.S. House races from 2008, 2010, and 2012 with a women candidate. Individuals who used online news or political blogs are more likely to believe the woman candidate is less competent, lacks integrity, and is less caring than the man candidate, holding other factors constant. Finally, the results from Chapter 6 show gendered opinions and digital media reduce the likelihood of voting for the woman candidate. The overall, or net effect, models show even the positive effect of online mobilization is outweighed by the negative effect of digital media combined with the believe in gender stereotypes. Such gendered opinions of women candidates are widely held by the mass public.

The dominant explanation for why Obama, as an underdog candidate won the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination was that he was able to mobilize and engage the public, especially the young, through online media. These online venues also significantly increased the money Obama raised through small dollar contributions (Redlawsk et al 2010). However, what these stories ignore is the negative media coverage of his primary opponent, Hillary Clinton, online. This study attempts to systematically and empirically document how the Internet and online news may contributed to reduced support for Clinton's candidacy and women congressional candidates more generally.

As new communication mediums are developed there are often short-term increases in misinformation with the proliferation of information, but as standards are established this chaos disappears. Digital media's effect on women candidates for elected office over the long run is unclear and deserves further study.


Digital Media, Mobilization, Stereotyping, Vote Choice, Women Candidates


xvi, 220 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 210-220).


Copyright 2013 Allison Joy Hamilton