Academic journal article Political Research Quarterly

Women in Executive Office: Variation across American States

Academic journal article Political Research Quarterly

Women in Executive Office: Variation across American States

Article excerpt

The number of women serving in state-level executive office varies tremendously across the American states. Drawing upon a comparative politics framework developed by Pippa Norris and findings from analyses of women in U.S. state legislatures, we derive a set of hypotheses to explain this state variation. Our analysis of elections held between 1979 and 1998 demonstrates that women are more likely to run for executive office in states where more women are in the eligibility pool of candidates, and where the demands of gatekeepers and recruiting practices of political parties favor women's candidacies. Furthermore, the likelihood that women win these elections is influenced by the supply of candidates, the demands of gatekeepers, and the characteristics of a state's political system. We also conclude that the predictors of women in executive office have changed over time and that our explanations for state variation of women in these positions are more thorough for elections occurring before 1991.

Why do some political systems elect more women than others? Addressing this question is important for a number of reasons. First, alleviating gender inequities in both symbolic and substantive representation is only possible if we know the cause of the inequities. Second, wide disparities in the election rates of women (across nations and within the United States) are very common. Among state executive offices-the focus of our study-only fourteen states have ever elected a woman governor, while in Arizona women were elected to all five top executive offices in 1998 (CAWP 2001). A number of social, structural, and political factors have been identified to explain differing election rates of women to American state legislatures (Ford and Dolan 1998; Nechemias 1987; Norrander and Wilcox 1998; Rule 1981, 1990, 1999; Sanbonmatsu 2002; Werner 1968). We employ a conceptual framework of candidate recruitment developed by Pippa Norris (1997) to summarize the findings from these legislative studies. Norris developed her framework to explain why certain candidates run for and win election to national parliaments and legislatures. While not necessarily gender-specific, her framework can and has been used to examine disparities in the election of women across nations (Norris 1993, 1997).

Using Norris' framework, we then derive several explanations for the varying election rates of women to state executive offices (such as Governor, Attorney General, State Treasurer, Superintendent of Education).1 In the modern era of devolution, these offices have a growing power and prominence in the implementation of public policy, yet they have been relatively unexammed by both state politics and gender politics scholars. Using an original data set that encompasses twenty years of executive office elections (from 1979 until 1998), our analyses illuminate the experiences of women pursuing these offices. The application of theory and findings from the comparative and state legislative literatures also allows us to assess whether prior explanations for variation in the election of women are generalizable across types of office.

PREVIOUS EXPLANATIONS FOR VARIATION IN THE ELECTION OF WOMEN

In her model of candidate recruitment, Norris (1997) identifies four types of explanations for why candidates come to run for and win elective positions: the political system; the recruitment processes of the political parties; the supply of candidates; and the demands of gatekeepers. We organize the research regarding women in state legislatures around her four categories. The political system explanation focuses on the configuration of legal, electoral, and party structures within a state. These are "rules of the game" (Norris 1993: 312), but the rules do not apply neutrally to all candidates. Some facilitate while others hinder the election of women. For example, women are more likely to serve in state legislatures with multimember districts (Moncrief and Thompson 1992; Norrander and Wilcox 1998; Rule 1990) or with smaller district populations (Nechemias 1987; Rule 1990). …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.