Do Female Politicians Talk Differently? Or Do Journalists Hear Different Things?


The nickname ‘the iron lady’ painted Margaret Thatcher as a strong and inflexible leader. Politicians generally work hard to convey a favourable image of themselves to voters in their own communication and in the media. Leadership traits, however, are stereotypically associated with men. The research in this proposal studies whether male and female politicians are covered differently in the media, whether male and female politicians present themselves differently in the media, and inspects how journalists come to gender specific portrayals. Given the central role of media in present-day politics, the images of female politicians in the media could be important factors in female political underrepresentation.

This study has three aims. First, I will provide a causal understanding of gender differences in media coverage of politicians. Extant studies, mostly conducted in the US, document differences in the way male and female politicians appear in the media, but fail to provide an explanation for these differences. I will examine whether politicians treat female politicians differently, or whether media strategies and behaviour of politicians themselves underlies differences in coverage. Second, I will study a part of reporting that is ignored in studies of gendered coverage: the presentation and portrayal of leadership traits, which are important to voters. Third, I will give insight into the conditions under which gendered coverage arises, by expanding our knowledge to parliamentary democracies and by taking campaign dynamics between opponents into account.

The research uses a multi-method approach to study politicians in two parliamentary democracies: the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. It encompasses content analyses of both media and party communication, to assess how politicians present themselves and how they media portray them. An experiment on journalists is used to validate the results from content analyses, and to further open up the black box of journalistic decision making.


Project number


Main applicant

Dr. D.J. van der Pas

Affiliated with

Universiteit van Amsterdam, Faculteit der Maatschappij- en Gedragswetenschappen, Amsterdam Institute for Social Science Research (AISSR)

Team members

Dr. D.J. van der Pas


25/01/2018 to 31/12/2021