Academic journal article Political Research Quarterly

The Electoral Fortunes of Women Candidates for Congress

Academic journal article Political Research Quarterly

The Electoral Fortunes of Women Candidates for Congress

Article excerpt

Many hypotheses have been proposed to explain why women remain underrepresented in Congress. One of those hypotheses is that some voters have blatant prejudices against women politicians, while others hold stereotypes about men and women politicians that favor men. In contrast, others claim that women candidates for Congress actually have an advantage in running for office because voters prefer women politicians. We test those hypotheses using pooled 1988, 1990, and 1992 National Election Studies data and the pooled 1988-1992 Senate Election Study and building on Krasno's (1994) model of voter choice in House and Senate elections. We find evidence that some voters prefer women candidates in House races, but not in Senate races. The advantage for women candidates in races with a challenger and incumbent is slight and can be attributed to the strong support of well-educated women voters. An advantage for women candidates is more pronounced in open-seat contests. In open-seat races, women voters, regardless of their education levels, more strongly support women candidates. Overall, candidate sex was not significant to male voters.

Many hypotheses have been proposed to explain why women remain underrepresented in Congress. One of those hypotheses is that voters are biased against women candidates. According to this hypothesis, some voters have blatant prejudices against women politicians, while others hold stereotypes about men and women politicians that favor men. In contrast, others claim that women candidates for Congress actually have an advantage in running for office because voters prefer women politicians. This article evaluates these claims by examining the performance of men and women candidates running for the House and Senate. Ultimately, we conclude that there is no difference in the performance of men and women candidates in U.S. Senate elections, however, in House races, particularly open-seat contests, women have an advantage over men in attracting the support of women voters.

Researchers have taken two approaches to investigating questions about biases for or against women candidates-small group experiments (usually conducted with students) and public opinion surveys.1 Experimental work on the effect of the candidate's sex has yielded divided results. Some studies have found that their subjects see women candidates as more honest and better on issues such as education, heath care, the arts, and helping the poor than men candidates (Leeper 1991; Kaid et al.1984; Sapiro 1981-82). Other studies have found that their subjects see women candidates as less knowledgeable and less competent on the most important "masculine" issues such as military crises and economic topics, and see them generally as weaker candidates (Huddy and Terkildsen 1993; Rosenwasser and Dean 1989). In addition, although most experiments have examined stereotypes rather than hypothetical voting choices, a recent study looking at voting decisions found that experimental subjects in one of two states preferred men candidates (Fox and Smith 1998).

Survey researchers have yielded somewhat more consistent results. Recent surveys have shown that a significant number of voters are more likely to say that they prefer women candidates (Cook 1994; The Public Perspective 1993). More important, three studies of actual election behavior have shown that women voters seem to prefer women as candidates for Congress. First, Seltzer, Newman, and Leighton's (1997) study using Voter News Service exit surveys from 1990, 1992, and 1994 examined gender gaps in Senate and gubernatorial voting. Their data confirmed previous studies by showing a clear gender gap pattern of women voters preferring Democratic candidates. In addition, they found that in races pitting male and female candidates against one another, the average gender gap grew when the Democrat was a woman and shrank when the Republican was a woman. Moreover, their data showed that women candidates had an advantage among women voters. …

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