Gender and Foreign Policy: Are Female Members of Congress More Dovish than Their Male Colleagues?

Published date01 March 2020
Date01 March 2020
Subject MatterArticles
Political Research Quarterly
2020, Vol. 73(1) 126 –140
© 2019 University of Utah
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/1065912919879764
A large literature shows that women—elites and the mass
public—are more pacifistic than men are. They oppose
the use of military force, have concerns over war casual-
ties, and support humanitarian interventions at much
higher rates than men do (Eichenberg 2003; Gelpi,
Feaver, and Reifler 2006; Nincic and Nincic 2002;
Norrander 1999; Shapiro and Mahajan 1986). In addition,
research finds that democratic governments spend less on
military budgets and conduct fewer military operations
when their parliaments see an increase in the number of
elected women (e.g., Clayton and Zetterberg 2018; Koch
and Fulton 2011; Shea and Christian 2017). The evidence
that female legislators are more dovish than their male
counterparts are appears to be overwhelming. However,
much of this evidence is drawn from the aggregate deci-
sions of legislatures, not the individual decisions of law-
makers. Most studies simply do not consider the degree
to which gender—as opposed to party loyalty and con-
stituency pressure—independently shapes the foreign
policy preferences of legislators. To date, only one study
has controlled for party affiliation and electoral influ-
ences while examining the individual security decisions
of female lawmakers (see Swers 2007). But this analysis
has focused narrowly on the pattern of bill sponsorship
among male and female senators after the 9/11 terrorist
attacks. No study has looked at the full range of foreign
policy issues over many decades to compare men’s pref-
erences to those of women.
The purpose of our article is to conduct this compari-
son, and to do so with all the necessary controls, in order
to see whether female and male legislators make different
decisions on the same national security questions. We
focus our study on the U.S. Congress because its mem-
bers can vote freely without being punished by caucus
leaders. To start, we collect all foreign and defense policy
votes cast by members of Congress between 1973 and
2016. These votes concern everything from the Vietnam
and Iraq wars to nuclear nonproliferation and weapons
sales. We then apply a dynamic ideal point estimation
technique to these votes to plot each member on a hawk-
dove dimension. Once we have estimated each member’s
position, we see whether women in Congress are more
dovish than their male colleagues are.
Our initial results indicate that, in the House and to a
lesser extent in the Senate, female legislators vote differ-
ently than male legislators do on foreign policy items.
However, once we account for the relative conservatism
of each member’s district or state, the gender differences
decrease sharply. Elected women are still more dovish
than elected men are, at least in some periods, but this
difference largely stems from constituency preferences.
When female and male Democrats represent similar vot-
ers, they tend to have overlapping foreign policy
879764PRQXXX10.1177/1065912919879764Political Research QuarterlyBendix and Jeong
1Keene State College, NH, USA
2The University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada
Corresponding Author:
William Bendix, Department of Political Science, Keene State College,
Rhodes Hall S266, M/S 3400, Keene, NH 03435, USA.
Gender and Foreign Policy: Are Female
Members of Congress More Dovish than
Their Male Colleagues?
William Bendix1 and Gyung-Ho Jeong2
Research shows that female legislators tend to support liberal, pacifistic approaches to foreign policy. But it remains
unclear whether they are dovish because they seek to represent the dovish values of women generally or because
they tend to represent mostly liberal voters. To answer this question, we examine all foreign policy votes cast in
Congress over the last five decades to estimate the ideological locations of House and Senate members on a hawk-
dove dimension. Once we control for partisan and constituency effects, we find only limited evidence that female
legislators are more dovish than their male counterparts are.
gender, foreign policy, U.S. Congress, ideal point estimation

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