The Contingent Effects of Candidate Sex on Voter Choice

  • Yoshikuni OnoEmail author
  • Barry C. Burden
Original Paper


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 display 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.


Female candidates Gender stereotypes Candidate traits Vote choice Partisanship Conjoint experiment 



We would like to thank Michael DeCrescenzo, Sarah Khan, Spencer Piston, Eleanor Neff Powell, David P. Redlawsk, and seminar participants at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Boston University, the University of Chicago, Dartmouth College, and Keio University for their helpful comments on this research. We also appreciate Yusaku Horiuchi for sharing his R scripts, and Masahiro Yamada and Masahiro Zenkyo for their assistance in data collection. Earlier versions of this work were presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association and the Annual Meeting of the Society for Political Methodology. This research was financially supported by the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS) Grant-in-Aid for Scientific Research (26285036; 26780078; 17K03523) and the Kwansei Gakuin University Research Grant. Yoshikuni Ono also received the JSPS postdoctoral fellowship for research abroad. Data and supporting materials necessary to reproduce the numeral results in the paper are available in the Political Behavior Dataverse (

Supplementary material

11109_2018_9464_MOESM1_ESM.docx (374 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 375 kb)


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of LawTohoku UniversitySendaiJapan
  2. 2.Department of Political ScienceUniversity of Wisconsin-MadisonMadisonUSA

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