Gender Stereotypes and the Policy Priorities of Women in Congress
Scholars find that women who run for Congress are just as likely to win as men are, yet women face considerable challenges related to their sex on the campaign trail. Women are more likely to face challengers than men are, the challengers they face are typically more qualified, and gender stereotypes paint women as less able to handle important issues like defense and foreign affairs. We examine how women succeed in the face of these obstacle, arguing that women are successful, in part, because they craft large, diverse legislative agendas that include bills on a mix of topics. These topics include district interests, women’s interests, and the masculine issues on which women are disadvantaged. We believe this balancing strategy allows women to develop reputations for competence on a wide range of issues, which in turn, helps them deter electoral challengers. We test our hypotheses by analyzing a comprehensive database of all bills introduced in the U.S. House between 1963 and 2009. We find that female MCs propose more bills, spread across more issues, than do men. Further, the topics of the bills women sponsor span a range of women’s issues, masculine issues, and gender-neutral topics—giving support to the idea that women balance their legislative portfolios. Finally, we examine the electoral benefits to women of this strategy by analyzing rates of challenger emergence in Congressional races. We find that women must introduce twice as much legislation as men to see the probability of challenger emergence decrease to a level that is indistinguishable from that of men. The added effort and staff hours female MCs typically devote to crafting legislation, vis-à-vis male MCs, only serves to put them on equal footing with men. It does not give them an advantage.
KeywordsWomen’s representation Legislative agendas Descriptive representation
The authors would like to thank Kevin Banda, Frank Baumgartner, Nate Birkhead, Colleen Carpinella, Tom Carsey, Erin Cassese, Melody Crowder-Meyer, Kathy Dolan, Tessa Ditonto, Jill Greenlee, Jeff Harden, Morgan Hazelton, Rocket Holman, Leonnie Huddy, Justin Kirkland, Amber Knight, Chryl Laird, Carrie Langer, Heather Ondercin, Steve Rogers, Kira Sanbonmatsu, the Gender and Political Psychology Writing Group, seminar participants at the 2014 New Research in Gender and Political Psychology Conference, Iowa State University Department of Political Science, Iowa State University Carrie Chapman Catt Center, Saint Louis University Department of Political Science, Saint Louis University Department of Women’s and Gender Studies, Washington University Department of Political Science, the three anonymous reviewers and editor at Political Behavior for helpful feedback and assistance in previous drafts of this paper.
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