In an effort to control for confounding factors that might affect the relative propensities for women and men to enter politics, we take the question of candidate emergence into the laboratory. We find evidence that women are election averse while men are not. This difference does not arise from disparities in abilities, risk aversion, or beliefs, but rather from the specific competitive and strategic context of campaigns and elections. The key features of our experimental design involve (1) an objective task that represents policymaking ability, (2) monetary rewards that ensure that all subjects, regardless of gender, face the same incentives to select a representative with the highest task ability, and (3) a comparison of alternative selection mechanisms. In Experiment 1, we find that men and women are equally likely to volunteer when the representative is selected randomly, but that women are less likely to be candidates when the representative is chosen through an election. In Experiment 2, we find that women’s election aversion persists with variations in the electoral environment; it disappears only when campaigns are both more truthful and less costly.

From a working paper by Kristin Kanthak and Jonathan Woon.  This “election aversion” among women—even women in the high-status jobs that tend to feed into politics—is well-documented in surveys of potential candidates.  See the work of Jennifer Lawless and Richard Fox (book, article).  This simple experiment provides confirmation.

[Originally posted at The Monkey Cage]

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John Sides

John Sides is an associate professor of political science at George Washington University.