Candidate emergence and success: Evidence from women in state legislative primary elections



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The literature on the gender gap suggests that the main reason women continue to be underrepresented in Congress and most state legislatures is that women are not running for office. Many scholars suggest that the reason for the lack of women candidates is that women are not ambitious and choose not to run for office. In this context, ambition refers to office seeking behavior. Women report not feeling qualified to run for office and weigh the risks of running very heavily. Little attention is made in the literature as to the factors that determine this ambition or the risks involved. This study uses state legislative primaries as a lens to understand the gender gap. Using an institutionally based candidate emergence model which takes into account certain aspects of the state legislative office, the state geopolitical factors that influence competition, the electoral system and primary rules of a state, and traditional factors like incumbency, I test what factors determine the entry of women candidates into the primary race and what determines their success in gaining the nomination. I argue that many of these factors influence the strategic calculus of a woman candidate and influence her decisions to run for office. I find that contextual factors and electoral rules influence the entry of women candidates. Institutions that increase the level of competition in a district or state are favorable to the entry of women candidates. Women candidates are also likely to be represented in lower chambers of state legislatures and in the Democratic Party. Though contextual factors like a state‟s electoral system and aspects relating to a state legislature‟s level of professionalism influence the entry of women candidates, they have very little effect on the success of a woman candidate in winning the nomination. Traditional explanations of the success of women candidates, like being a member of the Democratic Party, had the most explanatory power in success. I also found that women candidates, even in the primary, do compete about as well as other candidates even in the most competitive of races.



United States. Congress