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Women Running “as Women”: Candidate Gender, Campaign Issues, and Voter-Targeting Strategies


  • An earlier version of this paper was presented at the 2001 annual meeting of the Midwest Political Science Association. We thank Owen Abbe, Janet Boles, Peter L. Francia, Karen M. Kaufmann, and the anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments. This research was funded by a grant from the Pew Charitable Trusts. The opinions expressed in this research note are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Pew Charitable Trusts.

  • 1 Like Shapiro and Mahajan (1986), we also believe that these dimensions do not apply to all women, but rather that different issues are important to different types of women.

  • 2 Our data do not include state legislative districts in Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Montana, New Jersey, and Virginia, and U.S. House legislative districts in Alaska, Arkansas, Delaware, Montana, South Dakota, Virginia, and West Virginia.

  • 3 Female Republicans comprise 39% of the women candidates in the sample and 40% of the candidates in the underlying population.

  • 4 Both sets of results are statistically significant. Issues: χ2 =9.991, p < .01; Targeting: χ2=6.983, p < .01.

  • 5 We conducted four focus groups of Democratic and Republican candidates in May 1999. Participants included candidates who lost or won their bid for political offices, including governor, U.S. Senate, U.S. House of Representatives, state senate, state house, city council, and public service commissioner. Focus groups took place in Atlanta, Sacramento, and Washington, D.C. Five in-depth, personal interviews were completed with candidates for U.S. House of Representatives, state senate, and statehouse.

  • 6 Some studies include both candidates’ expenditures. However, inclusion of these variables often results in multicollinearity. We avoided this problem by using expenditure advantage. Campaign finance data from the survey were comparable to those found in Federal Elections Commission and state governments’ campaign finance disclosure reports.

  • 7 Empirically, the scale ranges from 0 (none of the campaign activities were performed by paid campaign aides or political consultants) to 11 (all activities were performed by paid campaign aides or political consultants).

  • 8 Open-seat candidates and Republicans are the base values for these variables. We also tested models that included control variables for region and an interaction between region and party. Neither variable approached statistical significance, and the inclusion of these variables did not affect the results.

  • 9 This figure is based on the difference between two probabilities: the probability for women who focus on women's issues and target women's or social groups (−5.8 + 11.3=5.5) and the probability for men who focus on women's issues and target women's or social groups (−5.8).

  • 10 Herrnson's campaign questionnaires (1988, 1995, 2000b) achieved overall response rates of 52%, 42%, and 44%. They included responses from candidates, campaign managers, and other members of the campaign. The response rates among only congressional candidates were 23%, 17%, and 13%, respectively.


Previous research has demonstrated that voter stereotypes about gender place certain strategic imperatives on female candidates. This study examines the effects of the interplay of candidate gender and campaign strategy using a new data set consisting of survey responses from U.S. House and state legislative candidates who ran for office in 1996 or 1998. We demonstrate that women gain a strategic advantage when they run “as women,” stressing issues that voters associate favorably with female candidates and targeting female voters. These findings suggest that one of the keys to success for female candidates is to wage campaigns that use voters’ dispositions toward gender as an asset rather than a liability.

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