In This Article Gender and Electoral Politics in the United States

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Foundational Works

Political Science Gender and Electoral Politics in the United States
by
Kelly Dittmar, Kira Sanbonmatsu
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 November 2015
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756223-0137

Introduction

From foundational works on women’s entry into the masculine sphere of politics to the most recent debates over the causes of gender disparities in participation and officeholding, academic research has asked how women navigate, succeed in, and influence political campaigns as candidates and voters. A central issue of scholarly debate has been the causes of and barriers to female candidate emergence. Early scholarship shifted from emphasizing social and psychological factors influencing women’s decision to run to focusing on structural factors impeding women’s entry and election to office. However, more recent work on political ambition has reignited this debate, with studies recognizing the relationship between social and structural factors in shaping female candidate recruitment and selection. This debate is grounded on a shared perception of the gendered nature of American politics and elections. Scholars examine the influence of gender stereotypes on elite perceptions in candidate recruitment, voter expectations and evaluations of candidates, and candidate strategy. Intersectional approaches to understanding gender and electoral dynamics have enriched this research, pushing scholars to grapple with distinct realities for political actors at the intersections of multiple identities, experiences, and stereotypical expectations. Gender dynamics vary as well by type and level of office, as have the data available and methodologies used to study women’s candidacies. Research on women’s election to office has employed multiple methodological tools, including multivariate analyses of electoral outcomes across campaign conditions; surveys of voters, potential candidates, officeholders, and political practitioners; experimental testing of gender effects on perceptions and evaluations; analyses of campaign output and media coverage; interviews with party leaders and political consultants; and case studies of political campaigns. Surveys and analyses of voter data have served as the primary methodologies used to investigate women’s political participation in American elections. However, the operationalization of “participation” itself has spurred scholarly debate, with gender and race research seeking to expand existing measures of what is deemed political; scholars have waged similar critiques against methodologies and measures used to evaluate political knowledge. As with research on women candidates, the study of women’s political participation confronts questions about gender roles and women’s transition from the private to the public sphere first made starkly evident through women’s winning and exercise of the vote. A major literature has developed, particularly since the 1980s, on the gender gap in public opinion, party identification, and voting, demonstrating the evolution of women’s influence and behavior as voters. Scholars examine the implications of women’s louder political voice to demonstrate women’s electoral impact both on and before Election Day.

General Overviews

Multiple edited volumes dedicated to major themes in women and American politics have been published since 2000. The books cited in this section provide comprehensive reviews of existing literature and insights into new questions, findings, and contexts within which to examine gender dynamics in electoral politics. Carroll and Fox 2014 and Thomas and Wilcox 2014 are best suited as texts for undergraduate courses due to chapter organization, range of topics covered, accessibility of content, and frequent updates. Carroll and Fox 2014 analyzes important aspects of gender, race, and campaigns from state legislative to presidential levels in the latest presidential election year. Thomas and Wilcox 2014 includes chapters examining the behavior and impact of women in office, the influence of ideology and sexuality among elected women, and research on judicial women, in addition to those focusing on gender and campaigns. Wolbrecht, et al. 2008 bridges research on women and American politics with thoughtful essays on the study of gender and American politics, capturing contemporary debates and combining original research with detailed reviews of existing literature. Carroll 2003 focuses explicitly on the study of women and American politics, offering a collection of essays offering new approaches to and new questions for the field. Reading Carroll 2003 today facilitates analysis of evolution in research and findings since its publication.

  • Carroll, Susan J., ed. Women and American Politics: New Questions, New Directions. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003.

    DOI: 10.1093/0198293488.001.0001E-mail Citation »

    Lays out a research agenda for women and American politics scholarship at the start of the 21st century in areas of gender and political recruitment, campaign strategy, fundraising, political parties, voting, media bias, intersectionality, and overall participation.

  • Carroll, Susan J., and Richard L. Fox, eds. Gender and Elections: Shaping the Future of American Politics. 3d ed. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2014.

    E-mail Citation »

    Timely edited volume that includes overviews of major topics in gender and elections, illustrating gender dynamics in the most recent presidential election year. Chapters are appropriate for undergraduate students and are organized to easily serve as course units.

  • Thomas, Sue, and Clyde Wilcox, eds. Women and Elective Office: Past, Present and Future. 3d ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2014.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199328734.001.0001E-mail Citation »

    Extensive edited volume that covers major themes and topics related to women’s paths to and campaigns for office and their impact as officeholders. Book is appropriate as a text for undergraduate courses and is updated regularly to reflect changing political dynamics.

  • Wolbrecht, Christina, Karen Beckwith, and Lisa Baldez, eds. Political Women and American Democracy. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511790621E-mail Citation »

    Inclusive edited volume that grapples with theoretical approaches, offers original research, and analyzes the state of research on women’s candidacies, political participation, and officeholding. Book is appropriate for advanced undergraduates to experts.

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