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Communication | Political Science


Kay Wolsborn; Terry Check


The gender gap in the electorate was highlighted as a distinguishing feature of the presidential election in 1996. Because it was recognized as such an important political phenomenon, citizens, politicians, political strategists and journalists offered explanations for its existence. Two common explanations surfaced: women and men voted differently because they cared about different public issues and women and men voted differently because they responded differently to the communication styles of the candidates. When examining these claims within the specific context of the presidential campaign of 1996, their validity is challenged by solid research. Although there were some political issues, such as political affiliation and health care, that women and men reported supporting in statistically different ways, the way that women and men support such issues as political ideology, government spending, welfare, abortion, affirmative action and faith in the economy was strikingly similar. Theories of gender communication support the notion that faulty transactions in political communication can occur when politicians use certain metaphors of sport and the military. Researchers have found that when women are confronted with these metaphors they often fail to make the necessary associations and feel alienated from political discourse. An examination of the rhetoric used by Bill Clinton and Bob Dole in the second presidential debate in 1996 reveals that Dole, a candidate who suffered from lack of support from women, used far more sports and military metaphors than Clinton, who received overwhelming support from women. Because a requirement of democracy is enlightened understanding, the use of metaphors of sports and military that alienate those that use the feminine style of political discourse prevents effective democratic rule.