Expert Commentary

Gendered perceptions and women’s equality in electoral politics

2010 study in American Journal of Political Science on the persistent political gender gap in American politics.

Despite progress in many areas of American professional life, women currently hold less than 17% of national-level elected offices, a lower rate than most of the developed world. The 2010 elections brought about the first-ever decrease in the female-to-male ratio in Congress since the first female representative was in 1916.

A 2010 study by Loyola Marymount University and American University published in American Journal of Political Science, “Gendered Perceptions and Political Candidacies: A Central Barrier to Women’s Equality in Electoral Politics,” explores a potential explanation for this persistent political gender gap.

The study compared how men and women assessed themselves in terms of whether or not they thought they had the qualifications for political office. In terms of experience and preparation, the differences between men and women in the sample were not statistically significant: 33% of women and 35% of men had conducted extensive policy research; 65% of women and 69% of men regularly engaged in public speaking; and 69% of women and 64% of men had fundraising experience.

The study’s findings include:

  • Between men and women with comparable credentials, backgrounds, and experiences, women are substantially less likely than men to perceive themselves as qualified to seek office.
  • Despite relying on the same factors when evaluating themselves as candidates, women are 29% less likely than men to assess themselves as “very qualified” to run for office and 80% more likely than men to believe themselves “not at all qualified.”
  • Women have a stronger perception of gender bias in the political arena, with 78% believing it is more difficult for a woman to be elected than a man, compared with 57% of men believing such bias exists.

The authors state that this difference in self-perceptions might mean that striving for “similar professional credentials, economic autonomy, and political experience, alone, cannot close the gender gap” in politics.

Tags: Congress, elections, gender

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