Study: Political campaigns may influence societal acceptance of violence against women

BETHLEHEM, Pa. — The 2016 U.S. presidential election created an especially polarizing and fiery political landscape. Both nominees represented opposite sides of the political spectrum, and their stark differences incited an especially contentious atmosphere among voters. Among the most talked about subjects on the campaign trail was sexism and violence against women. Now, a study by researchers at Lehigh University has found that political campaigns may influence the acceptance of violence against women.

The research was led by Nicole Johnson, assistant professor of counseling psychology at Lehigh University. Johnson originally set out to analyze how presidential campaigns, candidates, and voting behavior influences societal views surrounding rape and violence against women.

Johnson and her team collected data from two samples of college students at the same university before and after the 2016 presidential election. The results indicated that students were more accepting of violence against women after the election, and less accepting of traditional feminine gender roles, compared to the pre-election student sample.

“This means that following the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election participants perceived their peers as more accepting of violence, including violence against women, and less accepting of traditional feminine gender roles,” explains Johnson in a media release. “We hypothesized that this may have been due to strong statements endorsing violence during the campaign, as well as the demonstration of a woman (Hillary Clinton) being successful in a perceived male sphere (i.e., Politics).”

Supporters of both leading Democratic candidates, Clinton and Bernie Sanders, showed less acceptance of rape culture compared to Donald Trump supporters. Specifically, liberal attitudes differed on hostile sexism, hostility toward women, and acceptance of violence compared to Trump supporters. “Trump supporters perceived their peers as being more accepting of attitudes contributing to violence against women, which has demonstrated predictive power of personal attitudes and actions,” says Johnson.

Researchers say that their work illustrates just how influential political campaigns, and their perceived messages, can be on the general public, even among younger generations.

“Policy makers would benefit from this information in order to inform the creation of policy surrounding political campaigns, particularly those involving women candidates,” Johnson concludes.

The study is published in the Journal of Social Politics.

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