Political Behavior, Vol. 25, No. 4, December 2003 ( 2003)
WHEN TO TELL?: Disclosure of
Concealable Group Membership,
Stereotypes, and Political Evaluation
Ewa A. Golebiowska
Although their group membership is normatively irrelevant to vote choice, members
of politically underrepresented groups (e.g., women, nonwhites, and gays and lesbi-
ans) are often evaluated through the prism of their group memberships and related
stereotypes when competing for elective office. Because membership in groups de-
fined by gender, race, or ethnicity is easily perceptible, women and nonwhite candi-
dates may have little control over the political effects of their group membership.
Membership in groups defined by a candidate’s sexual orientation is concealable, in
contrast, and thus potentially gives gay and lesbian candidates some control over the
impact of their homosexuality and accompanying stereotypes on voters’ responses.
Using an experimental design, I examine the relationships between timing of group
membership disclosure, group stereotypes, candidate sex, and political responses to
gay and lesbian candidates for office—taking into consideration voters’ attitudes to-
ward homosexuality and their sex.
Key words: gay and lesbian candidates; candidate evaluation; electoral choice; timing
of group membership disclosure.
Candidates for elective office in the United States, particularly when laun-
ching campaigns for higher level and executive positions, face numerous chal-
lenges. They have to establish name recognition, obtain media exposure, raise
sufficient campaign funds, persuade potential constituents of their ideological
congruence, and project strong leadership traits, among other things. Al-
though this formula for electoral success generally applies to all candidates
and offices, it may take on a slightly different form in political outcomes of
nontraditional political candidates (or those who are nonwhite, women, or gay
Ewa A. Golebiowska, Associate Professor, Wayne State University, Department of Political
Science, 2040 Faculty Administration Building, Detroit, MI 48202 (ewa_golebiowska@
0190-9320/03/1200-0313/0 2003 Plenum Publishing Corporation