Author ORCID Identifier

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Political Science

First Advisor

Sarah Allen Gershon

Second Advisor

Toby Bolsen

Third Advisor

Judd Thornton


As female representation continues to grow in Congress, some have questioned whether gender stereotypes still matter in American politics. In this dissertation, I examine gender differences in communication rhetoric in campaign advertisements and how exposure to these messages influence emotions, reliance on cognitive heuristics, and vote choice. I perform a content analysis on a random sample of 1,400 candidate-sponsored congressional advertisements from 2010-2016 and identify eight distinct stereotype-content messaging themes which I call Affective Competence Strategies. I find evidence that female candidates more frequently emphasize merit-based messaging over values-based messaging, suggesting that female candidates rely on specific communication strategies to counteract gender stereotypes. Strategy engagement is also strongly associated with candidate partisanship, electoral competitiveness, and incumbency status. To identify the implications of these gendered differences in candidate messaging, I conducted an experimental study, examining the impact of 16 different candidate ads with a sample of 2,561 subjects. Results indicate respondents expressed divergent emotional reactions based upon whether the treatment featured a male or female candidate. These emotional reactions were significantly associated with trait assessment and vote choice. This research provides new insights on the depth of the gender gap, in both representation and voting, and how political communications influence emotions, cognitive processing, and political decision-making.


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