- Gender and Candidate Communication: VideoStyle, WebStyle, and NewsStyle
Women are underrepresented when it comes to U.S. political offices. Cultural stereotypes, media framing, and public perceptions are among the factors female candidates must confront when running for public office. And confront they do. According to Gender and Candidate Communication, those women who sought U.S. Senate and gubernatorial offices between 1990 and 2002 presented themselves to the public in strategic ways through their political advertising and campaign websites that influenced news coverage of the campaign. While descriptive in nature, Gender and Candidate Communication brings together an impressive data set consisting of over 1,300 political spots, 48 websites, and 1,800 newspaper articles. The authors rely on content analysis as their primary method of inquiry as well as experimental, survey, and [End Page 701] case-study approaches. This book is an important read for practitioners as well as political scientists, media scholars, and especially those who study women's political campaign communication.
The authors' theoretical constructs of VideoStyle, WebStyle, and NewsStyle provide the organization of the book's major sections. VideoStyle considers the verbal, nonverbal, and production techniques of television campaign advertising. Originally based on the work of Goffman and advanced by Kaid and Davidson, Bystrom supplemented VideoStyle with Campbell's view of feminine style to assess more effectively the role of gender in television campaign advertising. Banwart adapted the constructs of feminine style and VideoStyle to candidate websites, particularly considering their interactive possibilities, to establish WebStyle. NewsStyle encompasses media coverage of political candidates and considers research on sex stereotypes, particularly that conducted by Kahn. Media coverage research advanced by Robertson, Banwart, and Bystrom developed the construct of NewsStyle.
The section on VideoStyle proceeds through four chapters. The first reports on the use of verbal content in television ads (positive, negative, comparative appeals; logical, emotional, ethical appeals; feminine and masculine strategies; incumbent and challenger strategies; issue emphasis, and image emphasis), nonverbal content, and production content. Female candidates present a VideoStyle "characterized by an attention to feminine issues, balance of masculine and feminine image traits, blend of feminine style and challenger appeals, a smiling facial expression, and formal dress" (45), which differs somewhat from male candidates' VideoStyle.
The next chapter, "The Interaction of Electoral Status, Political Party, and VideoStyle," concludes that the differences in VideoStyle between men and women "are a result of the combination of both" gender and status (61). The authors note the need for future research to illuminate the most influential components of VideoStyle on a successful campaign, but do find that when women candidates win, they emphasize "masculine traits and both feminine and masculine issues most frequently, although more traditionally feminine than masculine issues" (79). To bolster these findings, the authors conduct a brief case study of Kathleen Sebelius's VideoStyle in her 2002 Kansas gubernatorial campaign, finding that Sebelius "establish[ed] an incumbent status in an open race," challenged gender stereotypes, and used negatives strategically (81). The section concludes by assessing "Voter Reactions to Candidate VideoStyle," discovering that "women candidates may be most successful running a positive or mixed-message campaign emphasizing mostly feminine or a balance of feminine and masculine image traits" (109).
The section on WebStyle proceeds much like the previous, with a chapter describing the verbal, nonverbal, and production qualities of candidate websites, [End Page 702] as well as the additional characteristic of interactivity. In general, male and female candidates use similar strategies on their Web pages and, unfortunately, under-use the interactive potential of the Web. The authors note that the strategies used on campaign websites "are in response to expectations for the medium instead of expectations based on the candidate's gender" (141), making websites particularly appealing to female candidates. The case studies on the WebStyles used in the 2002 North Carolina U.S. Senate campaign and the 2000 Montana governor's race find that both female candidates' (winning) campaigns developed WebStyles with "more attention to personalness, identification with the viewer, and...