In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Gender and Electoral Politics in the United States

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Foundational Works

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Political Science Gender and Electoral Politics in the United States
Kathleen Rogers, Kelly Dittmar, Kira Sanbonmatsu
  • LAST REVIEWED: 07 April 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 July 2021
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756223-0137


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, with a particular focus on racial politics. 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; field experiments; 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 while also locating women within racial, geographic, and socioeconomic contexts. 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 2005. 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 2018 is best suited for undergraduate courses due to chapter organization, range of topics covered, accessibility of content, and frequent updates. The book analyzes important aspects of gender, race, and campaigns from state legislative to presidential levels in the latest presidential election year. 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. Bos and Schneider 2017 provides a resource for those wishing to learn about the most prominent lines of research on gender and political psychology. Brown and Gershon 2016 complicates scholars’ focus on sex differences between women and men and instead points toward rich opportunities for research agendas that disaggregate women as a group. And McCammon and Banaszak 2018 uses the suffrage anniversary to reconsider women’s political engagement.

  • Bos, Angela L., and Monica C. Schneider, eds. The Political Psychology of Women in U.S. Politics. New York: Routledge, 2017.

    Edited volume that presents new ways of theorizing about and studying the relationship between gender and psychology. Topics include socialization, public opinion, candidacy, stereotypes, and intersectionality.

  • Brown, Nadia E., and Sarah A. Gershon. Distinct Identities: Minority Women in U.S. Politics. New York: Routledge, 2016.

    DOI: 10.4324/9781315661018

    Edited volume that provides needed intersectional approaches to the study of women’s relationship to politics, from participation to candidacy and media effects. Original studies in the volume include analyses of groups of women of color and themes such as skin color, immigration, and socioeconomic inequality.

  • Carroll, Susan J., and Richard L. Fox, eds. Gender and Elections: Shaping the Future of American Politics. 4th ed. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2018.

    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.

  • McCammon, Holly J., and Lee Ann Banaszak, eds. 100 Years of the Nineteenth Amendment: An Appraisal of Women’s Political Activism. New York: Oxford University Press, 2018.

    Edited volume that addresses the legacy of the suffrage movement for women’s political engagement since. Topics range from women’s electoral behavior to protest participation and organizational involvement as well as the significance of racial and ethnic cleavages among women.

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

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511790621

    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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