VANCOUVER, June 3, 2019 — When you picture a politician, you probably imagine a middle-aged white man, because historically, that’s what most politicians have been. While the Canadian population is growing increasingly diverse, stereotypes about who does and does not run for politics persist. Although most of us like to think of ourselves as making voting choices based on facts, policies, and ideas, our reliance on stereotypes means that might not always be the case.
Researcher Joanie Bouchard of Université Laval examined the ways that race-, gender-, and age-based stereotypes were used by voters in Québec to evaluate political candidates. She says that the motivation for this research came from observing how Québec’s former minister of health, Gaétan Barrette, was seen by many as less competent, despite years of experience in the health field, because he was overweight. “I was surprised at the fact that this man’s ability to lead an important ministry was judged based, in part, to his weight. It led me to pay more attention to the way appearance influences perceptions in politics,” Bouchard said.
Her work, which used focus groups to understand voters’ experiences, revealed that appearance-based stereotypes do influence how we view politicians. In particular, Bouchard found that Québecers have specific expectations about how candidates should look depending on their political affiliation. For example, a candidate with brightly dyed hair would look out of place among conservatives. There are even particular stereotypes that lead Québecers to assume whether or not someone supports Québec’s independence.
While stereotypes are pervasive and can be hard to avoid, Bouchard suggests that being aware of how and when we use them can be helpful. “Knowing what stereotypes are and what they mean in politics can help one recognize when they’re tempted to rely on them too much,” she said.
Bouchard’s paper, Getting the Picture: Gender-Based, Race-Based, and Age-Based Stereotypes in Politics is among thousands of new pieces of research being presented this week at the Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences. Canada’s largest academic gathering, Congress brings 8,000 of the country’s brightest researchers, thinkers, and policy-makers to Vancouver from June 1-7.
Congress is organized by the Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences, which promotes research and teaching for the advancement of an inclusive, democratic and prosperous society. With a membership now comprising over 160 universities, colleges and scholarly associations, the Federation represents a diverse community of 91,000 researchers and graduate students across Canada. Congress 2019 is hosted by The University of British Columbia.
The views and opinions expressed by the researcher in this media release and in the paper being presented at the Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences are her own and do not reflect those of the Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences nor of The University of British Columbia.
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