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April 28, 2013 10:49 AM How Women Run for Office

By Seth Masket

Molly Ball has a nice piece up in the current Atlantic noting that female candidates are all the rage right now in both major parties. She cites campaign practitioners who note that women tend to be harder to attack politically and political scientists who find that female candidates seem to do just about as well as male candidates in elections. Sounds like a win!

I did, however, want to mention an interesting paper on this topic by Kathryn Pearson and Eric McGhee. Examining congressional election returns from 1984 to 2010, they confirm some of the findings Ball mentions, but they note the backstory behind these stats: female candidates tend to be of higher quality than male candidates; far more of the female candidates have previous electoral experience.

There’s an additional wrinkle when the results are broken down by party:

Democratic women raise more money and run in more politically favorable districts than their male counterparts do, enhancing their viability and chances of success. When these advantages are included in multivariate models predicting victory, Democratic women are actually somewhat less likely to win than Democratic men.

What all this means is that there’s actually a vote penalty for running female. We just usually don’t observe it in the aggregate because female candidates, particularly Democrats, tend to run with some other advantages (previous experience, more money, more favorable districts). Put another way, yes, women have to work harder to do as well as men do in elections.

[Cross-posted at Mischiefs of Faction]

Seth Masket is an associate professor of political science at the University of Denver.
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