While we might like to think that voters research the issues, review the candidates, and then vote for the candidate that best reflects their views; the reality, based on political science research, is much different. According to George Washington University Professor Danny Hayes' research paper "When Gender and Party Collide: Stereotyping in Candidate Trait Attribution," "Stereotypes are relevant in politics because citizens are willing to devote only limited time to thinking about political matters. As a result, political judgments -- whether about issues, events or candidates -- are often the result of a few salient cues. Stereotyping is the assignment of 'identical characteristics to any person in a group regardless of the actual variation among members of that group.'"
Yes, while voters don't want to be stereotyped and fight against stereotypes, they stereotype candidates.
The good news is that while Hayes found that "voters are likely to use party stereotypes in making inferences about candidate traits, but that gender stereotypes are not as influential."
The bad news is party stereotypes are influential, regardless of whether or not they are in fact accurate.
This might lead you to wonder, as did I, what the standard Republican and Democratic Party stereotypes are? This baseline voter stereotyping was discussed in "Candidate Qualities through a Partisan Lens: A Theory of Trait Ownership," by Hayes and published in the "American Journal of Political Science."
"Republicans tend to be regarded as more adept at handling matters of defense, taxes and social issues (such as so-called family values). Democrats, meanwhile, own the issues of social welfare and social group relations."
While these might be the stereotypes, there are Republican candidates who work at reaching out to the elderly and the working class and Democrats who focus on leadership and national security.
What do these stereotypes mean in today's environment?
Based on a Gallup Poll released last week, dissatisfaction with government (18 percent) was the greatest concern facing this country, (1,032 adults, aged 18 and older, 95 percent confidence level, plus or minus 4 percent). This was closely followed by immigration (15 percent), economy in general (14 percent) and unemployment (12 percent).