It’s hard not to see that perception as evidence of a double standard. Research indicates that women in leadership positions tend to be evaluated more negatively than men. A 2010 study on backlash against female politicians found that “participants experienced feelings of moral outrage” such as contempt, anger, and disgust when women politicians were described as power-seeking. In contrast, “when participants saw male politicians as power-seeking, they also saw them as having greater agency (i.e., being more assertive, stronger, and tougher) and greater competence.”
It’s difficult to differentiate or untangle lurking sexism from general distrust among voters of the political establishment. Clinton is also a political insider at a time when voters have very little trust in government.
A number of participants in the focus group rated Donald Trump as more trustworthy than Clinton. Trump also leads Clinton on the question of trust in some national polls. That’s remarkable considering that the honesty of the candidates is not an abstract question, and evidence suggest that Clinton is in fact more trustworthy. According to PolitiFact, only fifteen percent of Trump’s statements are true or mostly true, compared to fifty percent of Clinton’s statements.
“They all thought that she wanted to win more, which means that she’ll say and do anything to get elected, which means that the problem of integrity is even higher with her than it is for him,” Luntz, the moderator of the AARP-sponsored focus group, commented.
Both candidates should be held accountable for lies and any misleading statements they make. But there seems to be a disconnect when it comes to voter perception of honesty and Trump’s track record of false statements.
“She probably is held to a higher standard than Trump,” one woman speculated when the focus group was asked whether Clinton is treated unfairly as a woman. “He’s allowed to say whatever, and make things up as he goes along in a way that’s not permitted to her.” Though, it didn’t sound like there was much sympathy. “Whether she is [treated unfairly] or not,” the woman added, “that’s the game.”
At one point, participants were asked for a word to describe each candidate. Many of the adjectives applied to Clinton reflected her trust deficit. Untruthful. Untrustworthy. Slimy. Liar. Deceitful. One man called her a “man-eater.”
When asked to elaborate, he seemed to equate her political power with a kind of mercenary quality. “Look at how she’s dealt with men in power around the world. She takes no prisoners,” he said. “For those who are going to get in her way, she’s going to cut their liver out, serve their heart, with no regard. I’m dead serious.”
Another man explicitly applied different standards to Trump and Clinton in evaluating honesty. “Clinton has a responsibility to be honest because she was an elected official,” he said, “whereas Trump just had his organization.” It’s true that Clinton and Trump are making a pitch to voters based on very different track records. It seems odd, however, to suggest that simply because Trump doesn’t have experience in politics he does not have a responsibility to be truthful, especially as a presidential candidate.