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A Non-Gendered Lens? Media, Voters, and Female Candidates in Contemporary Congressional Elections

Abstract

Much research in the study of U.S. politics has argued that female candidates for elected office are treated differently—and often worse—than male candidates in the press and by the public. Although these patterns do not doom women to electoral failure, they raise a formidable series of obstacles that often complicate women’s path to elective office, slowing the move toward gender parity in representation. Broad changes to the American political landscape, as well as methodological limitations of previous work, however, suggest the need for an updated assessment. We rely on a detailed content analysis of local newspaper coverage from nearly 350 U.S. House districts and nationally representative survey data from the 2010 midterms to provide a comprehensive evaluation of whether women experience a more hostile campaign environment than do men. We find that candidate sex does not affect journalists’ coverage of, or voters’ attitudes toward, the women and men running for office in their districts. Rather, reporters’ portrayals and citizens’ assessments of candidates stem primarily from partisanship, ideology, and incumbency, not the sex of the candidate. Although our results differ from much of the existing literature, we regard them as a valuable point of departure for answering pressing questions about gender and representation in contemporary politics, both in an American and comparative context.

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