“The Public is Less Likely to Support Women (but not Men) Politicians When They Wear Masks” by Kiho Muroga & Charles Crabtree
July 14, 2021 @ 9:00 am – 10:00 am JST
Abstract: The global COVID-19 pandemic has changed how elected officials govern, campaign, and present themselves. One key change is that politicians across the world often wear face masks when appearing in public. To what extent does this practice influence how the public perceives politicians? We investigate this question in Japan, a country where people – though not politicians – often wore face masks even before the novel coronavirus outbreak. Conducting a novel survey experiment with a nationally representative sample of almost 2,000 Japanese residents, we find that masks do influence public perceptions: Women politicians lose public support when wearing masks, but men do not. Our experimental design allows us to investigate several possible mechanisms that might lead to this disadvantage for women. Surprisingly, we find that women politicians receive less support even though wearing masks does not decrease public perceptions of their attractiveness, competence, intelligence, trustworthiness, or strength. In other words, it is not clear what mechanism drives this decreased support. Given the nature of political campaigns in the COVID-19 world, we think that our results have broad implications for women politician competitiveness, specifically, and for politics and gender, more generally. We outline these in the conclusion along with several new research directions.