A Theory of Gender’s Role on Presidential Approval Ratings in Corrupt Times

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The rise of female chief executives appears to signal gender progress, but this may not be unequivocally so. This article advances a contextual theory for the role of gender on leaders’ approval ratings, a key measure of “success” and source of executive power. I argue that because of gendered expectations and discourse, female presidents will receive lower approval ratings in contexts of corruption. The study focuses on Latin America, known for its powerful, masculinist presidential regimes and its democratically elected female leaders. I first trace the gendered construction of President Michelle Bachelet’s image as an honest mother. Upon a presidential scandal, higher standards and gendered discourse resulted in deeply disappointed citizens, significantly undermining her popularity. Models of eighteen Latin American countries next reveal a negative impact of being a female—rather than a male—president on approval ratings. Marginal effects plots show that female presidents score worse than their male counterparts in contexts of at least one presidential scandal and higher executive corruption. This article contributes to the growing literature on gender and corruption. It also challenges some conventional wisdom on the pro-women consequences of female leadership in providing a more nuanced account of the role of gender in the executive branch.




Reyes-Housholder, C. (2020). A Theory of Gender’s Role on Presidential Approval Ratings in Corrupt Times. Political Research Quarterly, 73(3), 540–555. https://doi.org/10.1177/1065912919838626

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