The Collegian
Sunday, July 12, 2020

Professor says awareness of mortality in elections sways voters

We are all going to die. Sen. Hillary Clinton just hopes that's not what voters are thinking about when they vote at polls.

According to research conducted by leadership professor Crystal Hoyt and two recent alumnae, Stefanie Simon and Lindsey Reid, when people are reminded of their own mortality, they exhibit preferences for masculine leadership traits. The study is especially applicable to the coming elections as terrorism is continually discussed, and the leadership styles of both male and female candidates are critiqued.

Hoyt, who holds a doctorate in social psychology, organized her research into two tests designed to examine what factors have the most influence over people's vote.

In the first test, each participant was given one of two surveys. One survey asked several generic questions, leaving the participant unaffected, while the other posed stirring questions about the participant's own death. They were then asked to select a leader of known gender and unknown leadership traits. The results revealed that among the participants who had been given the survey on death, both men and women preferred to be led by their own gender.

In the second test, which similarly conditioned the participants with an initial survey, candidates were arbitrarily labeled with masculine or feminine leadership traits, in addition to gender. Hoyt found that among the participants who had prefaced their decision with the death survey, women consistently chose the candidate with masculine qualities, regardless of gender, and men, although more hesitant to choose a masculine female over a feminine male, also leaned toward assertive leaders.

Although the research -- to be published in the next Leadership Quarterly -- suggests that people would support a leader with stereotypically masculine traits such as assertiveness, rationality, independence and decisiveness, there is a problem when it comes to Clinton, since people don't like when a woman violates her femininity, Hoyt said.

"Clinton needs to temper her masculinity with being nice, nurturing and caring," she said. "Unlike the male candidates she has to bring in this communal aspect of her personality."

She has tried to satisfy the public's traditional expectations of a woman by appearing on women's talk shows and discussing her personal life and relationships, Hoyt said.

As the first serious female candidate for presidency, Clinton's public persona is more rigidly dictated by the reality of her gender, leadership professor Ana Mitric said.

"People fail to recognize the ways that her leadership style is not just a function of her personality," Mitric said. "But is actually a function of her being a woman in a man's world."

Karen Zivi, a political science professor, said: "All the candidates are making strategic decisions about appealing to certain voters. I would hope that it's not political theater, it has to be political strategy."

Simon, who graduated last year and helped Hoyt conduct the study, said people are uncomfortable when cultural stereotypes are threatened and women, who are traditionally associated with a private sphere, enter a public one.

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"Americans are egalitarians and we don't want to show our biases," Simon said, "but we are used to viewing women in a certain way, and that is not in higher leadership positions."

Said Hoyt: "We're in a want-to-be gender-blind society, but when it actually comes down to going into the booths, for a woman to be basically the most powerful person in the world, I think there is some hesitancy there, and it's a hesitancy that is intangible at an implicit level."

So who will win the nomination? Hoyt made her prediction, but prefaced it by saying it wasn't related to her research at all.

"I have a sneaking suspicion Obama is going to get the nomination," she said.

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