A new study published in Political Behavior suggests that certain conditions will inspire male voters to vote for female candidates in elections. The phenomenon, called the “first daughter effect” by researchers, results in a tendency for men who have a firstborn daughter to become more likely to vote for a female candidate, and also to become more likely to support policies that promote gender equality.
The study, conducted at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, was controlled for the influence of partisan preference and a range of other factors. Led by Amherst professor of politics and women’s gender and sexuality studies Jill Greenlee, the research team made a number of other interesting discoveries related to the first daughter effect.
The tendency is called the “first daughter effect” because the team discovered that the voting preferences of fathers are only affected in this way if his daughter is a firstborn child. Fathers of daughters who were not born first do not show the same effect. The effect was more notable in Democratic voters than Republican voters, and these fathers were also more likely to support gun control legislation.
“When men have a female child, it may give them a new lens through which to look at the world,” said Greenlee, “where they may think ‘Okay, what’s it like out there for a little girl?'”
The researchers suggest that fathers have a less scripted relationship with daughters than sons, which opens the door for firstborn daughters to uniquely influence their father by virtue of the time they share together. This, combined with the lasting imprint that first-time parenthood leaves, can help create the voting mindset seen in the first-time daughter effect.
Using survey data collected from 1,500 voters by the Cooperative Congressional Election Study, Greenlee’s team found “significantly and substantively” increased support for Hillary Clinton among fathers of firstborn daughters. To further test the theory, the research team created a fictional campaign that featured a female candidate running to become the first female representative in Minnesota’s 10th Congressional district. The fictional candidate’s campaign emphasized expanding opportunities for “our daughters”, echoing the sentiments of the Clinton campaign. The test subjects surveyed on the fictional campaign showed significantly increased support for the female candidate from fathers of firstborn daughters compared to fathers of firstborn sons.
The published study concludes “Ultimately, our results suggest that having a first daughter may be a transformative experience that leads men to… apply this newfound perspective to their candidate evaluations and vote choices.”
The CCES data also showed pronounced support from fathers of firstborn daughters for Title IX regulations, measures to decrease the gender gap in income, and stronger laws against sexual harassment. Again, this effect only applied to fathers of firstborn daughters. Even for fathers who had several daughters, if one of them wasn’t born first, there was no effect on their political views in relation to other control groups.