Always Running: Candidate Emergence among Women of Color over Time

Published date01 June 2019
AuthorAndrea Silva,Carrie Skulley
Date01 June 2019
Subject MatterArticles
Political Research Quarterly
2019, Vol. 72(2) 342 –359
© 2018 University of Utah
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/1065912918789289
The 2016 election saw a record number women (re)
elected to the U.S. Congress, but these rates were still
below parity.1 Women consistently report fewer instances
of recruitment and encouragement to run compared with
men, and women consider running for office less fre-
quently than men (Barreto et al. 2017). However, these
trends represent the aggregate experiences of all women
and vary when disaggregated by race and gender. For
example, black women report higher rates of encourage-
ment, and black women and Latinas more frequently
consider a running relative to white or Asian women
(Barreto et al. 2017). These differences are regularly
eschewed in favor of discussion of women’s political
emergence and experiences in the aggregate. As a result,
much of what we do know about women’s decisions to
run focuses explicitly on gender without the impact of its
interaction with race. How does intersectionality condi-
tion women’s emergence as candidates for the U.S.
Congress? We find many conditions thought necessary
for women’s emergence as candidates are contextual and
temporally specific. Moreover, conditions that encour-
age women to run in the aggregate do not necessarily
apply for women of color.
In this paper, we add to a growing body of work on
candidate emergence focusing on intersectionality. The
gender and politics literature has been critiqued for focus-
ing on the experiences of all women to the exclusion of
women of color (e.g., Paxton, Kunovich, and Hughes
2007; Smooth 2006) and frequently justified as a data
limitation problem (but see Brown and Gershon 2017).
Using a novel dataset of U.S. Congressional primary
elections from 1980 through 2012, we overcome this
limitation by using a cross-sectional time series (CSTS)
analysis. We find many influences on women’s emer-
gence are conditional by race/ethnicity. Our results sug-
gest examining the intersection of race and gender is
essential and that data availability need not be a prohi-
bitive factor in explaining the nuanced experiences of
women candidates.
The Merits of Diversity in
Women’s representation in Congress is not proportional to
the population, and scholarly debates question whether
this disparity is a problem for representation. These sub-
stantive and descriptive representation discussions focus
789289PRQXXX10.1177/1065912918789289Political Research QuarterlySilva and Skulley
1University of North Texas, Denton, USA
2Sewanee: The University of the South, TN, USA
Corresponding Author:
Andrea Silva, Political Science Department, University of North
Texas, 1155 Union Circle, Denton, TX 76203, USA.
Always Running: Candidate Emergence
among Women of Color over Time
Andrea Silva1 and Carrie Skulley2
The number of women seeking congressional office in the United States has dramatically increased since 1980. Previous
research on women candidates explores why women run, but new research on candidate emergence shows that
women face different challenges and advantages based on their race and ethnicity. We investigate these differences
by disaggregating data on women’s candidate emergence by race and ethnicity to examine how these theories work
when explicitly considering race and ethnicity. We focus our examination on women running in House primaries
between 1980 and 2012. We argue that theories of candidate emergence are conditional to the racial and/or ethnic
identification of the candidate. We employ a cross-sectional time series analysis with the intuition that examining
congressional elections over time will allow us to make general comments about the participation of women in
congressional elections. We find that many of the conditions thought necessary for women’s emergence as candidates
are contextual and temporally specific. Moreover, conditions that encourage women to run do not necessarily apply
to women of color.
gender, racial and ethnic politics, candidate emergence, intersectionality, candidate quality, primary elections
Silva and Skulley 343
on policy outputs and psychological and community ben-
efits. Arguments supporting substantive representation
suggest that representation is more than “mirroring” con-
stituents, and assuming legislative actions are driven by
characteristics is dangerous (e.g., Dovi 2002; Pitkin 1967,
61). Supporters of descriptive representation argue the sym-
bolism of traditionally marginalized groups as elected lead-
ers challenge notions of government exclusion, increasing
the social and political capital of historically marginalized
groups (Mansbridge 1999; Phillips 1995). Descriptively
represented groups have increased rates of participation
(Gay 2001), increased political efficacy (Atkeson and
Carrillo 2007; Banducci, Donovan, and Karp 2004;
Banducci and Karp 2005), increased political knowledge
(Verba, Burns, and Schlozman 1997), and engagement
(Stokes-Brown and Dolan 2010). Descriptively repre-
sented groups feel higher levels of trust in government
(Howell and Fagan 1988) and are less likely to feel alien-
ated by government (Bobo and Gilliam 1990; Pantoja and
Segura 2003).
Women, in particular, are less likely to perceive poli-
tics as a “man’s game” when represented by women, and
female representation increases political discussions
among women and girls (Campbell and Wolbrecht 2006;
Carroll and Strimling 1983; Sapiro 1981). When women
see other women run and win, it implies that women can
participate in decision making and influence policy (Karp
and Banducci 2008; Lawless 2004). Women’s percep-
tions of government are more favorable when other
women hold visible positions of power (Mansbridge
1999), and women are more likely to assess their female
Congressional representatives positively (Jones 2014;
Lawless 2004).
Finally, women’s descriptive representation leads to
substantive policy representation. Practically, the pres-
ence of women on the ballot or in office increases the
likelihood that women’s issues will be incorporated
into campaigns and policy agendas (Banducci and Karp
2000; Sapiro and Conover 1997; Swers 2002, 2005;
Wolbrecht 2002) and frame policy discussions from
women’s perspective (Sanbonmatsu, Carroll, and Walsh
2009). Women legislators also outperform male coun-
terparts. They sponsor and cosponsor more bills and
channel more funds to their districts than men even
after controlling for electoral vulnerability, ideology,
partisanship, and committee assignments (Anzia and
Berry 2011).
Despite theoretical disagreements on descriptive ver-
sus substantive representation, decades of work have
documented the psychological, community, and policy
benefits of inclusivity and diversity in Congress. Our
work builds on investigations looking at one dimension
of marginalization to multiply marginalized communities
(e.g., women of color).
Intersectionality and Political
The importance of descriptive representation for women’s
political engagement is echoed in studies focusing on
communities of color (e.g., Casellas 2011; Fraga et al.
2006; Fraga et al. 2008; Fraga et al. 2003). What remains
less clear is whether/how these benefits accrue for women
of color as candidates. The early candidate emergence lit-
erature has been critiqued for ignoring the power relations
already rooted in social identities (Allen 2013; Brown
2014b; Brown and Gershon 2017; Collins 2002; Dolan
2008; Holman and Schneider 2018). Intersectionality is
the idea that the multiple identities and situations shape
experiences in a mutually constitutive way and is central
to our investigation (Crenshaw 1991). We know the inter-
section of race and gender shapes the policy preferences
and approaches to participation of women of color
(Hardy-Fanta 1993). For example, women of color have
stronger linked fate and are more likely than white women
to participate in grass roots movements and activism
(Pardo 1998; Sanchez 2006).
Work that focuses primarily on women’s candidate
emergence and intersectionality is nuanced and complex.
Women of color differ from white women in the reasons
they decide to run, the type of campaign they lead, the
kind of support they should or do receive, and ultimately
how they legislate (Bejarano 2013; Brown 2014a; Holman
and Schneider 2018; Minta and Brown 2014; Philpot and
Walton 2007; Sanbonmatsu 2015; Scola 2006; Garcia-
Bedolla, Tate, and Wong 2014). We build on these investi-
gations by including proxies for these important candidate
emergence factors into a larger model. We compare these
theories intersectionally, and across time and context.
Determinants of Candidate
Emergence and Hypotheses
After mounting evidence has shown women candidates do
not systematically suffer from voter bias (e.g., Herrnson,
Lay, and Stokes 2003; Huddy and Terkildsen 1993a,
1993b; R. Seltzer, Newman, and Leighton 1997), analyses
of women’s underrepresentation have investigated the
conditions under which women decide to run (e.g.,
Lawless and Fox 2010; Norris and Lovenduski 1995).
Studies accounting for intersectionality have found that the
increased educational attainment, income, and wealth has
increased the numbers of black women in candidate eligi-
bility pools. Brown (2014a) echoes this, finding black
women legislators in Maryland came from working or
middle-class backgrounds. The extent of black women’s
political ambition, participation, and success in electoral
politics is mitigated by social and political marginalization,
and substantively affects how candidates are identified,

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