No, really, I am a good husband

So, interestingly, my wife took some exception to my “why I’m a great husband” post.  So, I’m clearing the record here.  I’m only a very good husband.  I falsely assumed that my wife could detect my tongue in my cheek in the the title, but, like emails, maybe everything is not entirely clear in a blog post.  Mostly, though, it was this that bugged her, “And, she does the substantial majority of the cooking.  But even when she doesn’t, dishes are mine. ”  So, in the interests of blogging accuracy and spousal harmony, I shall clarify.  I pretty much never cook.  It’s just that when nobody cooks (e.g., Wendy’s and Bojangles, etc.) I still do the dishes.  And when I go to Political Science conferences to learn about fascinating (and not) research and to hang out with old friends in cool cities, dishes are on her.  So, there you have it.

Do voters actually prefer female candidates?

The latest research says the answer is “yes,” at least in state-level elections.  Got to see some great (and some really not great) Political Science research in Chicago at MPSA last week.  My favorite was a paper I had the pleasure of discussing by Barry Burden (my friend from way back in grad school– he was my official grad student mentor a year ahead of me, and we even published something together way back) and Yoshi Ono.  They used a very cool set of conjoined experiments.  Here’s the abstract:

We examine the degree to which voters show bias for male or female candidates as a possible contributor to the underrepresentation of women in public office in the U.S. Using
conjoint survey experiments, we show that subjects are biased slightly in favor of female candidates, a result that differs from a prior study. We find that independents show greater bias
than do partisans, a result that may be consistent with a theory of “partisan insurance.” When separating contests with same-party and different-party candidates, we find that partisans display (opposing) biases in same-party settings that mimic party primaries. Finally, we show that the overall pro-female bias is equal in gubernatorial and state legislative elections, a result that contrasts with an earlier study finding a pro-male bias in presidential elections. We suggest ways in which this pattern of biases could be explained by “office-congruency” theory and an alternative mechanism based on voters’ differential experiences with women in various offices.

The overall pro-female effect was small, but significant.  Here it is relative to other effects:

Also, additional charts nicely show that the advantage to female candidates comes primarily from female voters and from Democratic voters.  Republican voters disadvantage female candidates and male voters, on the whole, show now gender biases.

Now, it should be noted that these are hypothetical campaign match-ups, not real world ones, but, still, pretty interesting findings.

As for Burden and Ono’s earlier findings, a similar experiment yields very different results when looking at president:

A prominent explanation for why women are significantly underrepresented in public office in
the U.S. is that stereotypes lead voters to favor male candidates over female candidates. Yet
whether voters actually use a candidate’s sex as a voting heuristic in the presence of other
common information about candidates remains a surprisingly unsettled question. Using a
conjoint experiment that controls for stereotypes, we show that voters are biased against female
candidates but in some unexpected ways. The average effect of a candidate’s sex on voter
decisions is small in magnitude, is limited to presidential rather than congressional elections, and
appears only among male voters. More importantly, independent voters have the greatest
negative bias against female candidates. The results suggest that partisanship works as a kind of
“insurance” for voters who can be sure that the party affiliation of the candidate will represent
their views in office regardless of the sex of the candidate.

And, while I was at it, I went down the whole Burden and Ono rabbit hole and found they did a really cool list experiment on attitudes towards female presidents (and, if you are not familiar with list experiments, they are really cool and you should read this).  Unsurprisingly, Republicans were most hostile to the idea of a female president (even controlling for attitudes towards Hillary Clinton).

So, short version of all this— the evidence is pretty clear that voters likely hold a bias against female presidential candidates.  But, the best evidence suggests there is no such bias for female candidates running for Congress, state legislature, and governor and that female candidates may even have a small advantage in state-level offices.

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