Congressional candidates' photo presentation on their campaign websites.

AuthorIke, Vivian

Congressional Candidates' Photo Presentation on their Campaign Websites

The internet is a major source of information for voters and an effective campaign tool for Congressional candidates. (1) Most candidates running for Congress have a campaign website; they use "photos" on these websites to present themselves to the public. The character they chose to portray in their photos has a lot to say about how they intend to be perceived. In other words, the way they dress, their mannerisms, the setting (background and persons included in their photos), and overall photo presentation sends a message about the impression they want the public to have of them. (2)

According to gender role theory, men and women perform different roles in society because they are biologically different. The theory suggests that men are naturally masculine, meaning tough, decisive, and ambitious, while women are feminine, meaning sympathetic, caring, and dependent. (3) Moreover, research shows that even today, the public often views aspiring politicians through the lens of gender stereotype embodied in gender role theory; men are considered to be better decision makers and leaders, while women are usually considered to be empathetic to the needs of society. (4) As a result, Congressmen, and particularly Congresswomen, are aware of how they reinforce public masculine and female characteristics ("gender stereotypes") during their campaign. (5) In the case of Congress, they are working to be elected into a leadership role, and leadership is considered a masculine role according to gender role theory. Hence the implication that men are better suited than women at performing this role. It also implies that the dress code for Congress is a masculine version of business attire. Consequently, the research question is, "do Congressmen and women appear masculine (i.e. wearing business suits) at different rates?" This means that the main aim of this paper is to test for the difference in the rate at which men and women candidates appear dressed in business attire (i.e. appear in suits) on their campaign website photos.

There are a number of journal articles that have analyzed the content, resources, and features found on the campaign sites of candidates running for Congress and the official sites of incumbent members of Congress. (6) However, there are few studies that study the way Congressmen and women present themselves in their campaign website photos. There are only two known studies in this particular area of research, Girish J. Gulati's 2004 "Members of Congress and Presentation of Self on the World Wide Web" and Girish J. Gulati and Sarah A. Treul's 2004 "Gender and Presentation of Self in the 2002 Congressional Election." These studies show that Congressmen and women do indeed appear in their photos wearing business attire. They also appear with their family and constituents at comparable but different rates. The difference in the way men and women appear were not very meaningful. However, the most significant findings of both papers indicate that Republican women dress more in business attire than Democrat women. Given these findings, this paper will also test for the difference in the rate at which Republican women and Democrat women appear dressed in suits on their campaign website photos.

Although this area of research is not developed, it is important because appearance has been demonstrated to have a significant influence on voter behavior. (7) A substantial number of political science studies have used pictures of politicians to determine perceptions of competence for office and to forecast election results, indicating a positive correlation between competence ratings and electoral success or demise for both male and female political candidates. (8) For instance, Rodrigo Priano, Daniel Stockemer, and James Ratis found in their 2014 study that candidates who were rated high in competence for office by the participants were most likely the ones who had won the elections in 2008. (9)

This paper will analyze the pictures of Congressmen and women. A total of 100 House of Representatives candidates' (50 men and 50 women candidates) campaign websites from the 2008, 2010, 2012 and 2014 Congress elections were used for this study. Candidates are categorised based on their gender (male and female); political party (Republican and Democrat); and region in the country (North and South). These categories (independent variables) were used to determine whether party identification, region, and particularly, gender correlates with the way candidates chose to display themselves on their campaign photos. The next section expands on the literature for this research.

Presentation-of-Self and Appearance

Members of Congress are greatly concerned with how they should present themselves to voters and engage in presentation of self. (10) Presentation-of-self can be described as a performance whereby an individual (in this case a Congressional candidate) presents himself or herself and his or her behavior in a social setting to the public and attempts to guide the impressions they make of him or her to the public with the intention to guide the public's impression of him or her. It consists of appearance (candidates' clothing, insignia of office or rank, sex, and age), mannerism (how candidates portray themselves), and setting (the physical layout and other background items and or persons that help create the scenery). Altogether, the way a candidate appears, his or her mannerism, and the setting used in a picture for "presentation-of-self" provides a significant amount of information about that candidate to the public." (11) The overall presentation style of Congress members is important because it can influence the public's impression of them.

However, appearance is specifically important for candidates' presentation as appearance has a high tendency to colour voter's perception of them, and research reports that appearance plays a significant role in influencing voting behavior. (12) According to Milton Lodge and Charles Taber, appearance serves as the first source of information and triggers people's assumptions or impressions about an individual's character, attitudes and behavior. (13) Markus Koppensteiner and Pia Stephan argue that appearance became important in influencing voting decisions in popular US elections since the famous televised debates between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon. (14) A number of researchers suggest Kennedy's appearance as one of the decisive factors that helped to provide him with the final narrow margin of victory over Nixon. (15) This is a growing area of research and is contrary to conventional political science research on voting behavior. In conventional political science, the appearance of political candidates plays a very marginal role in influencing vote behavior. People are understood to be rational voters that are willing and capable of voting in democratic elections; their vote decision is influenced by the evaluation of policy programmes in view of their own preferences; assessment of past performance of incumbent parties and relevant information about political candidates. (16)

This conventional rational voter model is inconsistent with reality and has been the subject of much debate. It does not take into account the limits of voter's capacity or their lack of willingness to process considerable amounts of political information. (17) In psychology, there are real-time limitations on human conscious processing, but to compensate for this, humans have evolved a likeability heuristic as a cognitive shortcut, to easily make decisions without conscious effort. (18) Also, some contemporary studies show that over the years, voters have been spending a considerable less amount of time and effort to gather information about political candidates. (19) According to Robs Johns and Mark Shepherd's 2011 study, voters know very little about parties, candidates, or even about politics in general; only a few voters base their choice on complex political considerations. (20) In short, many voters are rarely rational in their voting decisions; who they cast a ballot for is based on limited information, and this has been demonstrated to be particularly significant for American voters. (21) Political science research indicates that voters are now relying on the appearance of political candidates as a heuristic to guide their vote choice. (22)

The Significance of Campaign Websites and Campaign Photos

Campaign-produced and packaged information is the primary vehicle candidates use to present a particular image to the public (presentation-of-self). They use it to send a particular message about their experiences, strengths, and interests; to advertise...

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