Candidate Emergence and the Success of Women

Candidate Emergence and the Success of Women

By Benjamin Melusky, Old Dominion University, Eric Loepp, University of Wisconsin–Whitewater and Kristin Kanthak, University of Pittsburgh

At least partially in response to Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential election (Jordan and Balz 2018), 2018 witnessed a record number of women running for and winning legislative elections across the country. This candidacy surge affords a unique opportunity to evaluate why individuals choose to run for office. Extant literature identifies both individual- and institutional-level determinants of candidate entry, yet little attention has been given to a critical institutional feature that can encourage or discourage women to put their names forward: primary type. This article develops a model of candidate emergence positing that different primary systems—by virtue of including and excluding the participation of various subpopulations of a state’s electorate—will be more or less attractive to potential female candidates relative to potential male candidates. We uncover evidence consistent with our theory: women appear less interested in running in certain types of primaries (e.g., semi-closed) but find other systems more appealing (e.g., nonpartisan). The results also indicate that after considering primary type, women tend to outperform men in the subsequent general election across the board. This study provides encouraging evidence that closing the representation gap is an increasingly achievable goal but that the rules of the electoral game continue to determine who is playing.

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