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Looking for Sex in All the Wrong Places: Press Coverage and the Electoral Fortunes of Gubernatorial Candidates

  • Linda L. Fowler (a1) and Jennifer L. Lawless (a2)

Abstract

Although female candidates have achieved parity on some dimensions, political institutions remain deeply gendered in how they structure the parameters of electoral competition. We rely on a new data set of gubernatorial races from the 1990s to address the theoretical and empirical challenges created by the interaction of gender, media content, and electoral institutions. Based on an analysis of 1,365 newspaper articles for 27 contests in which a woman held a major party nomination, we uncover evidence of continuing bias in media coverage. Yet significant coefficients on candidate sex tell only part of the story. Gendered contextual factors linked to the contest and state in which candidates compete, as well as the newspapers that cover their races, also affect women's experiences on the campaign trail. The major finding, however, is the presence of a powerful baseline effect favoring male candidates that is deeply embedded in U.S. politics. All else equal, women gubernatorial candidates suffer a substantial vote deficit that results from non-observable influences. The results support the emerging consensus among feminist theorists that greater focus on the political context is likely to produce bigger scholarly payoffs than is continued attention to observable differences between male and female candidates.

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