Female Candidate Emergence and Term Limits: A State-Level Analysis

Date01 June 2018
AuthorSamantha Pettey
Published date01 June 2018
Subject MatterArticles
/tmp/tmp-17N0jqObDjvpOQ/input 735175PRQXXX10.1177/1065912917735175Political Research QuarterlyPettey
Political Research Quarterly
2018, Vol. 71(2) 318 –329
Female Candidate Emergence and
© 2017 University of Utah
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Term Limits: A State-Level Analysis
DOI: 10.1177/1065912917735175
Samantha Pettey1
This study examines term limits to determine the effect they have on female candidate emergence in state legislatures.
Initial research finds a negative relationship between term limits and female representation. I offer a candidate-level
theory and empirical approach to reevaluate how term limits affect female representation overtime. I argue term
limits create an incentive structure that favors female candidates since the incumbency advantage is lessened. To test
this theory, I set up a quasi-natural experiment with term limits as the treatment in a difference-in-differences test.
Furthermore, I also run logistical regression analysis using candidate-level data from all fifty states from 1990 to 2000.
I find women are more likely to run for office in open seats created by term limits. Last, this pattern holds for both
Republican and Democratic female candidates.
term limits, women and politics, female state legislative candidates
and economic status. Scholars theorize the importance of
descriptive representation and its implications for society
Term limits are one of the most significant institutional
because females bring different issues, experiences, and
changes to take place since the modernization of state
viewpoints to the political table. Increasing the percentage
legislatures (Kurtz, Cain, and Niemi 2007). And since
of women in political positions leads to more favorable
the implementation of term limits, a puzzle in the litera-
policies for women (Osborn 2012; Schwindt-Bayer and
ture emerges. Conventional wisdom suggests open seats
Mishler 2005; Swers 2002).
help women gain descriptive representation since women
In the United States, female descriptive representation
fare as well as men in elections. Term limits provide
has been, and continues to be, much lower than male
more open seats, which suggests females have more
descriptive representation at all levels of government.
opportunities to enter into office (Burrell 1994; Darcy,
Currently, at the state level, female representation ranges
Welch, and Clark 1994; Fox 2000; Seltzer, Newman, and
from a low of 12 percent in Louisiana to a high of 41
Leighton 1997). Yet studies conducted after the imple-
percent in Colorado. The average percentage of females
mentation of term limits find the greater number of open
in all fifty state legislatures is only 24.2 percent (Center
seats have negative consequences for female descriptive
for American Women and Politics [CAWP] 2014;
representation (Bernstein and Chadha 2003; Carroll and
National Conference of State Legislatures [NCSL] 2014).
Jenkins 2001).
Not only is the current percentage low, but the percentage
This article seeks to bridge the puzzling finding that
of women in state legislative branches has become rather
more open seats, created by term limits, results in fewer
stagnant since the 1990s (Norrander and Wilcox 2012).
women in office, but focuses on the candidate emergence
Given that a large amount of policy-making is delegated
stage. Theoretically speaking, term limits are only benefi-
to the states, the lack of female representation across all
cial to women if women actually run for office. states is troublesome (Carroll and Sanbonmatsu 2013).
Normatively speaking, understanding how term limits
help or hinder female candidate emergence is important to
1Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, North Adams, USA
study for furthering descriptive representation. Theories
on descriptive representation claim the makeup of legisla-
Corresponding Author:
tive bodies should reflect the demographics of the public.
Samantha Pettey, Department History, Political Science and Public
Policy, Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, 375 Church St., North
Politicians better represent their constituents if they
Adams, MA 01247, USA.
resemble the populace with regard to gender, race, social,
Email: s.pettey@mcla.edu

Research providing a greater understanding of when and
Sanbonmatsu 2013; Clark 1994; Dolan, Deckman, and
why women run for office, or emerge as candidates, is a
Swers 2007). Therefore, since fewer women are potential
critical stage in the process toward understanding the
candidates, parity is difficult because women simply do
unequal representation between males and females at all
not run.
levels of government.
This article proceeds as follows. First, I provide a dis-
Sociological Factors
cussion of the extant literature with regard to female can-
didate emergence and term limits. Next, I detail my
Second, extant literature suggests there are sociological,
expectations on how term limits will affect female candi-
cultural norms at play which keep women from seeking
date emergence. Then, I introduce the data and methods
office. Women are less likely to be socialized to run for
used to test my hypothesis and conclude with a short dis-
political office (Fox and Lawless 2004). Yet political con-
cussion of the findings and implications of this study.
ditioning research suggests women who are engaged in
politics are more likely to emerge and run for office at
any level (Fox and Lawless 2004). Furthermore, women
are more likely to be engaged in politics if issues are
A thread of the women and politics literature focuses on
salient to them (Campbell and Wolbrecht 2006).
how and why women run for office (Carroll and
Family responsibilities also inhibit women from being
Sanbonmatsu 2013; Fox and Lawless 2004). In other
in office, since women tend to have a disproportionate
words, why do some female candidates emerge and run
share of responsibilities (Fox and Lawless 2004). Not
for election while other potential candidates never run?
only that, women see private, family commitments as
Before there can be parity, there has to be pool of women
conflicting with public commitments, and this has
who are willing to run for office, and ultimately win their
changed little overtime (Burrell 1994; Carroll and
campaigns. Below is a discussion of the four main factors
Sanbonmatsu 2013; Sapiro 1982). Yet these cultural gen-
scholars identify as inhibiting the emergence of female
der norms that seem to place time constraints on future
candidates: institutional barriers, socialization, ambition,
candidates do not seem to inhibit women from participat-
and political factors.
ing in other areas of politics—women are just as, if not
more, likely to be engaged in local, community-level
Institutional Barriers
politics. Therefore, sociological-based time constraint
theories are not a sufficient explanation to a lack of
From an institutional perspective, the low rates of female
female emergence (Burns, Schlozman, and Verba 2001).
descriptive representation in the United States are
explained by two main theories: the incumbency advan-
tage and eligibility pool. Incumbency advantage posits
that incumbents’ high reelection rates reduce opposition
Third, research finds ambition levels differ by gender;
and leave little opportunity for new candidates to com-
specifically, women’s ambition levels are inherently
pete (Burrell 1994; Carroll and Jenkins 2001; Darcy,
lower than male’s. The gender differences in political
Welch, and Clark 1994). Furthermore, research finds
ambition levels is in part due to the fact that women per-
female candidates at the congressional level to be just as
ceive themselves to be less qualified than men to run for
likely to win elections as men, indicating that females are
office (see Fox and Lawless 2004; Fulton et al. 2006).
not at an electoral disadvantage per se, but the high
incumbency rate keeps women out of office (Burrell
Political Factors
1994; Darcy, Welch, and Clark 1994; Fox 2000; Seltzer,
Newman, and Leighton 1997). As such, women will enter
Last, there are political factors that influence whether or
office at a glacial pace because the incumbency advan-
not a person will run for office. Research finds parties
tage is so significant.
have a large and significant impact on whether a female
A second institutional constraint is that the female can-
will run for office. Most female candidates do not con-
didate eligibility pool is smaller than the male candidate
sider running for office until they are approached by a
pool. The eligibility pool, or where the majority of all
party leader. Without recruitment, the majority of cur-
candidates emerge from, consists mainly of positions in
rent women office-holders had never seriously consid-
law and business.1 Women in Congress tend to emerge
ered running for office. There are more women in office
from careers in teaching, social work, and health care
when women are actively recruited, whether by party or
without a background in politics rather than the typical
political organization (Carroll and Sanbonmatsu 2013;
“political” fields previously mentioned (Carroll and
Sanbonmatsu 2006).

Political Research Quarterly 71(2)
Term Limits
pool assumptions from the emergence literature to...

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