Political Behavior

, Volume 36, Issue 3, pp 605–630 | Cite as

When Gender Matters: Macro-dynamics and Micro-mechanisms

  • Sarah A. FultonEmail author
Original Paper


Does candidate sex matter to general election outcomes? And if so, under what conditions does sex exert an effect? Research conducted over the past 40 years has asserted an absence of a sex effect, consistently finding that women fare as well as men when they run. Nevertheless, this scholarship neglects sex-based differences in candidate valence, or non-policy characteristics such as competence and integrity that voters intrinsically value in their elected officials. If women candidates hold greater valence than men, and if women’s electoral success stems from this valence advantage, then women candidates would be penalized if they lacked the upper hand on valence. Recent research at the macro-level reports a 3 % vote disadvantage for women candidates when valence is held constant (Fulton, Political Res Q 65(2):303–314, 2012), but is based on only one general election year. The present study replicates Fulton’s (Political Res Q 65(2):303–314, 2012) research using new data from a more recent general election and finds a consistent 3 % vote deficit for women candidates. In addition, this paper extends these findings theoretically and empirically to the micro-level: examining who responds to variations in candidate sex and valence. Male independent voters, who often swing general elections, are equally supportive of women candidates when they have a valence advantage. Absent a relative abundance of valence, male independents are significantly less likely to endorse female candidates. If correct, the gender affinity effect is asymmetrical: male independent voters are more likely to support men candidates, and less likely to support women, but female independents fail to similarly discriminate.


Voting behavior Women Elections Candidate quality Valence Independent voters 



Walter J. Stone graciously provided the data used in this analysis. His guidance was instrumental to the development of this paper. I appreciate all of the feedback offered by the reviewers and editors. Their recommendations helped to strengthen this work. An earlier version of this paper was the co-winner of the Sophonisba Breckinridge Award for the best paper on the topic of women in politics at the Midwestern Political Science Association’s Annual Meeting in 2012.

Supplementary material

11109_2013_9245_MOESM1_ESM.docx (30 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 29 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Political ScienceTexas A&M UniversityCollege StationUSA

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