The 2008 Presidential Election: A Choice Between Stereotypes

Posted by Dr. Holly Latty-Mann on

Leadership Postulate for this Blog: The Obama and McCain campaigns will both face stereotypes and prejudices as the election date draws closer. Because voters are faced with stereotypes from both political parties, voters will be forced to look at traits as they relate to leadership qualities in order to make their decision. 

Research Findings to Support this Blog: According to Gregory S. Parks and Jeffrey J. Rachlinski’s study “Unconscious Bias and the 2008 Election,” implicit bias will play a large role in the votes that are placed in the 2008 election. However, the success of Clinton and Obama’s candidacy indicates that people do have the ability to debias themselves and consider factors besides race or gender.

This fall marks a historical moment in election history for our country.  For the first time, one of the candidates running for president is black. And his opponent has chosen a woman as his running mate. As the date of the election rapidly approaches, both Obama and McCain are going to face stereotypes and prejudices that have long been held by many Americans. As blogger Gregory S. Parks explained, “Implicit racial attitudes not only predict behavior, generally; they also predict voting behavior.” (

Overcoming race and gender stereotypes has been done. Internationally, more and more women are entering politics in the top positions. Of all the legislators in parliament around the world, 17.7 percent are women, and at the executive level, 16.1 percent of all ministerial portfolios are held by women. For women speakers of Parliament, the totals are lower, at roughly 10 percent. Among elected Heads of State, women account for almost 5 percent. (  In the U.S. in 2008, 16 percent of the Senate and 17 percent of the House are composed of women.

It is rare that people are forced to choose between stereotypes, and it is interesting to note that, according to Alice Eagly, a psychology professor at Northwestern University, “Gender stereotypes trump race stereotypes in every social science test.” ( The fact that Obama beat out Hillary Clinton for the spot on the presidential ticket is certainly evidence for that statement.

Because they are confronted with stereotypes from both of the political candidates, voters will be forced to take other factors into consideration. Naturally, political viewpoints will be taken into consideration, but so will leadership styles. According to a study by Parks and Rachlinski, the most remarkable sign that people can be debiased and base their decisions on factors other than race or gender is the surprising success of Clinton and Obama’s candidacies. (

As mentioned in previous blogs, the methods in which the Democratic and Republican teams present themselves will certainly be taken into consideration. Presidents are remembered for how they react to situations and their relationship performance – not necessarily their political points of view. I recall a friend telling me that she was so turned off by a presidential contender during a debate when he kept rolling his eyes that she voted for his opponent despite a less appealing platform. Ultimately, regardless of their gender or race, the next president will be remembered for the same thing. He, or possibly she, will be judged on the same criteria.


This blog is the fifth in a series of blogs that examines Obama and McCain’s personal leadership styles. With the presidential election rapidly approaching, we thought it would be interesting to study the similarities and differences between the two.  Leadership involves much more than just saying what needs to be done and expecting it to happen, and it will be interesting to see how the two candidates approach our country’s voters.


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