Study Finds Women See Female Lawmakers As More Competent, Having More Integrity

NPR's Danielle Kurtzleben
September 3, 2017

This year has brought with it a wave of women interested in running for office, particularly among Democrats. And though Republicans have seen less of a wave, Congress has gained one GOP woman already this year: Georgia’s Karen Handel.

A new study hints at where candidates and legislators can find their strongest supporters: Women tend to think more highly of female legislators on a variety of measures. With men, though, it depends on party; Republican men have reservations about the women representing them, whereas Democratic men in some ways rate women more highly than men.
Here is a rundown of what the researchers found, what it means and what it doesn’t:

The basics

Mia Costa and Brian Schaffner, political scientists from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, looked at survey data about Americans’ attitudes toward their House members from 2010 through 2014. They narrowed their research down to the pool of Americans whose representatives in the House changed during that period but where the seat did not change party.

This took partisanship out of the question and allowed the researchers to better focus on gender: Whether those Americans’ new representatives, though of the same party, were of a different gender.

Within that pool, the researchers studied how people felt about their members of Congress: whether respondents felt well-represented, how they rated their representatives on competency and integrity, and how close they felt to the representatives ideologically. Researchers also studied how often people contacted their congressional representatives — and how a legislator’s gender might have affected those things.

What they found

On the whole, women tend to view a female representative as being more competent, having more integrity and representing the district well. They also tend to approve of female legislators more.

Meanwhile, men, on the whole, don’t view women and men very differently on these measures.

But these attitudes don’t hold steady across parties — Republican women in particular get a boost from fellow women.

“Women rate female Republican legislators more positively than they do male Republican legislators,” the researchers write, “but neither women nor men rate Democratic legislators differently based on their gender.”

Specifically, Republican women members of Congress got a 10 to 11 percentage point boost in the areas of “approval” and “representing the district well” among women respondents.

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