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Posted by on Sep 22, 2011 in Miscellaneous, Politics, Society | 7 comments

Do Cultural Conservatives Pull Punches When Polled on Women Candidates?

From Nate Silver’s Five Thirty Eight, with this lede from new research by Christopher Stout and Reuben Kline, both political scientists:

Looking at Senate and Gubernatorial candidates from 1989 to 2008 (more than 200 elections in over 40 states), we analyze the accuracy of pre-election polls for almost the complete universe of female candidates and a matched sample of white male cases. We demonstrate that pre-election polls consistently underestimate support for female candidates when compared to white male candidates. Furthermore, our results indicate that this phenomenon — which we dub the Richards Effect, after Ann Richards of Texas — is more common in states which exhibit traits associated with culturally conservative views of gender issues.

And Nate:

The size of the Richards Effect is larger in states with fewer women in the labor force — which suggests it stems from conservative attitudes about the place of women in politics. This leads to an interesting conclusion. Although the Bradley Effect assumes that people conceal their true opposition to the black candidate, the Richards Effect appears to work the opposite way: people conceal their true support for the female candidate, especially in areas with culturally conservative views about gender roles.

Fascinating! Now – why are the women folks polling as if they support Rick Perry up to twice as much or more than Michele Bachmann, and, when in the polls, Sarah Palin? Is that an over, an under or an accurate?

I haven’t read the research link yet but my first questions are: How ill is it that people don’t feel they can answer a poll that shows their true support for women? Or is it that they take longer to decide on a female candidate? Or, do those who are polled simply not mirror those who vote?

As Nate concludes:

To be sure, this is speculative. Female candidates actually suffer no apparent penalty at the ballot box. As the political scientists Richard Fox and Jennifer Lawless have argued, the underrepresentation of women in higher office stems more from a gender gap in ambition and recruitment, not from sexism toward women who do decide to run for office.

But reluctance among citizens to express their support for a woman candidate — even if they might vote for her in the end — certainly does little to encourage women to run.

Cross-posted from Writes Like She Talks.

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  • ShannonLeee

    interesting… good to know there is little bias at the ballot box.

  • How ill is it that people don’t feel they can answer a poll that shows their true support for women?

    This is a complex question but the answer is rather simple: Peer pressure.

    There are exceptions. Christine O’Donnell polled extremely poorly among women in Delaware last fall and exit poll results were almost identical to pre-election poll results. The explanation here is that she was much too extreme even for most women who usually would vote for a woman candidate in a heartbeat.

  • Cannonshop

    Seems to me men are less likely to speak up about supporting women candidates than women are, so I think the bias is more likely on the male side of the polling.

    My wife certainly lets me, and everyone else, know exactly what she thinks…but my sample may be biased.

  • JSpencer

    I’d be curious to know how the Richards effect (in areas where it is most common) breaks down based on the gender of the voters. In any case, it looks to me like people believe very much in the sanctity of the secret ballot – which leads me in turn to wonder just how many spouses really know how their mate is voting. 😉

  • All great comments – thanks. I really really enjoy Nate Silver’s writing because he always has some elements that are not what everyone is saying and slices and dices things just differently enough to keep us thinking. This post of his and the research that he relies on reminds me of Drew Westen’s work about how emotion plays into our voting. I love that stuff.

  • Cannonshop

    JSpencer: is that really that surprising, though? With the Surveillance Society that is still rising, so few things ARE secret anymore, that people may well start lying to pollsters just so that they have SOMETHING in their lives not already recorded, analyzed, chopped fine and sold to marketing experts and Police forces.

  • Allen


    All due respect but, what the hell are you talking about?

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