Academic journal article Political Research Quarterly

Is There a "Gender Affinity Effect" in American Politics?

Academic journal article Political Research Quarterly

Is There a "Gender Affinity Effect" in American Politics?

Article excerpt

Information, Affect, and Candidate Sex in U.S. House Elections

A common assumption people make about American elections is that women voters will be the most likely source of support for female candidates, a phenomenon referred to as the "gender affinity effect." Using National Election Study (NES) data from 1990 to 2000, this project expands our understanding of forms that this affinity effect can take by examining two underutilized measures of reactions to candidates: information and candidate affect scores. The author also considers the impact of political party on women's and men's attitudes toward female candidates and examines whether any gender affinity effect in reactions to female candidates is related to people's voting decisions.

Keywords: women candidates; gender gap; affinity effect

As the number of women running for office in the United States has increased, so too has our examination of the factors that help predict their success. One rather common assumption people make is that women voters are the most likely source of support for female candidates, a phenomenon referred to as the "gender affinity effect" (King and Mailand 2003; Sanbonmatsu 2002). Indeed, when Senator Hillary Clinton announced her intention to run for the 2008 Democratic nomination for president, one analysis of her potential immediately declared, "Far from a Hindrance, Gender Could be Key for Clinton" (Romano 2007).

Indeed, there may be legitimate reasons to assume that women would be more likely than men to support female candidates, but focusing foremost on voter and candidate sex does run the risk of neglecting the complexity that gendered considerations can bring to elections. Evidence suggests women voters are often more likely to support women candidates than are men but that this support is not automatic and is often based on additional considerations beyond candidate sex. At the same time, most of the work examining an affinity effect addresses people's hypothetical or actual willingness to vote for female candidates. While voting for candidates is certainly important, we have few other observable implications of a gender affinity beyond this.

This project attempts to broaden our understanding of the ways in which women and men voters react to female candidates by employing two underutilized measures of reactions to candidates: information and candidate affect scores. At the same time, I seek to move beyond a simple focus on voter and candidate sex to consider the impact of political party on women's and men's attitudes toward female candidates. Finally, I examine whether any gender affinity effect in reactions to female candidates is related to people's voting decisions.

Why Expect a Gender Affinity Effect in American Elections?

There are myriad reasons why we might expect women to be a more likely source of support for female candidates than men. First, women might support women candidates because of feelings of group solidarity. Indeed, Pomper (1975) referred to the "dependent voter," who bases his or her vote on a demographic identification with a particular candidate. Work by Plutzer and Zipp (1996) referred to this as a "gender identity" approach to voting.

Women may also support female candidates because they seek descriptive representation. Here I mean that women voters who are mindful of the underrepresentation of women in elected office may be drawn to female candidates because they want to change the status quo. That women would be more likely to act on an interest in descriptive representation than would men is obvious from the current figures on women's presence in elected office in the United States. In 2007, women held 16 percent of the seats in Congress, 24 percent of statewide elected offices, and 23.5 percent of the seats in state legislatures (Center for American Women and Politics [CAWP] 2007). Indeed, Rosenthal (1995) and Sanbonmatsu (2002) found that women have a stronger preference for same-sex representation than do men. …

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