High-Profile Female Executive Candidates and the Political Engagement of Women

Published date01 March 2017
Date01 March 2017
Subject MatterArticles
/tmp/tmp-18z2ppt42sKl3p/input 680034PRQXXX10.1177/1065912916680034Political Research QuarterlyCarreras
Political Research Quarterly
2017, Vol. 70(1) 172 –183
High-Profile Female Executive
© 2016 University of Utah
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Candidates and the Political
DOI: 10.1177/1065912916680034
Engagement of Women:
A Multilevel Analysis
Miguel Carreras1
The number of salient female executive leaders has dramatically increased over the last two decades. In many
countries, executive politics is no longer an exclusive male domain. Using data from the four waves of the Comparative
Study of Electoral Systems surveys and from several waves of the AmericasBarometer surveys, I investigate whether
the presence of salient female executive candidates in high-profile national elections influences women’s political
engagement in the electoral process. The analysis reveals that the presence of viable female candidates has no
immediate impact on women’s political engagement at the mass level.
female politicians, executive elections, electoral participation, political engagement
2010; Murray 2010a; Raicheva-Stover and Ibroscheva
2014). However, we still have a very limited knowledge
Do female candidates in high-profile elections mobilize
about the symbolic effects2 of high-profile female execu-
women to participate in elections? Although women
tive leaders on women’s political engagement. Previous
remain clearly underrepresented in the political arena, the
cross-national research has shown that a better descrip-
number of salient female politicians worldwide has dra-
tive representation of women in the legislature and in the
matically increased over the last twenty years, which
cabinet empowers women, and has strong symbolic
allows us to tackle this important question. As of March
effects (Barnes and Burchard 2013; Desposato and
2016, eighty-five women have occupied the position of
Norrander 2009; Liu and Banaszak, forthcoming;
head of government or head of state: fifty-two prime min-
Wolbrecht and Campbell 2007). In this paper, I examine
isters and thirty-three presidents.1 More than three-
whether visible female executive leaders produce similar
quarters of all female executive leaders have occupied
symbolic effects.
these positions in the last two decades (Jalalzai 2013).
In light of previous research, which shows that
Many other female political leaders ran viable and very
female members of parliament (MPs) and female legis-
visible campaigns in national executive elections, lative candidates produce important symbolic effects
although they were ultimately defeated. As a result, we
(Atkeson 2003; Barnes and Burchard 2013; High-
now have a large pool of successful women executive
Pippert and Comer 1998), it is reasonable to expect that
leaders from different world regions.
high-profile female executive leaders will produce even
This dramatic increase in female executive leaders has
stronger effects on women’s political engagement.
generated considerable scholarly attention. In particular,
Executive leaders have more influence over policy and
several recent contributions study the reasons that facili-
tate the rise of women presidents and prime ministers
(Jalalzai 2014, 2013; O’Brien 2015). Other studies ana-
1University of California, Riverside, USA
lyze the political and policy effects of female political
leaders (Bauer and Tremblay 2011; Jalalzai 2016; Corresponding Author:
O’Brien et al. 2015). Another research strand focuses on
Miguel Carreras, Department of Political Science, University of
California, Riverside, 900 University Avenue, Riverside,
the media coverage received by female executive candi-
CA 92521, USA.
dates and female political leaders (Lawrence and Rose
Email: miguel.carreras@ucr.edu

are more visible to the public (Alexander and Jalalzai
serve as powerful role models to women voters, signaling
2016; O’Brien 2015). However, these theoretical argu-
that the political arena is no longer an exclusive male
ments are counterbalanced by a different set of expecta-
domain (Burrell 1994; Sapiro 1981). Second, the pres-
tions, which will be advanced in this paper. The
ence of viable female candidates indicates a greater open-
executive realm has traditionally been considered the
ness in the political system and might motivate women to
most masculine branch of government (Duerst-Lahti
be more active during (and after) the electoral process
1997). Female executive candidates often adopt a
(Burns, Schlozman, and Verba 2001; Carroll 1994).
“masculine” style during elections to fit societal stereo-
Third, female candidates are more likely to emphasize
types about leadership (Duerst-Lahti 2006). Moreover,
issues that matter to women, which can help them con-
female executive leaders often refrain from openly
nect with female voters (Dabelko and Herrnson 1997;
embracing women’s issues in order not to be depicted
Larson 2001).
as being too narrow in their interests (Shvedova 2004).
The empirical studies of the relationship between
Female politicians running to become president or
female candidates and female political engagement in the
prime minister also tend to receive a gendered media
United States have produced mixed findings. A few stud-
coverage, which trivializes them by focusing on their
ies have shown that women are more interested in cam-
physical appearance and personal life rather than on
paigns, more likely to discuss politics, and more prone to
substantive issues (Murray 2010a). Finally, female
attempt to convince others when there are viable women
executive leaders often have family ties with (or are
candidates in races for Senate and governor (Atkeson
handpicked by) strong male political leaders (Jalalzai
2003; Hansen 1997; High-Pippert and Comer 1998).
2013). All of these considerations lead to different
Similarly, Campbell and Wolbrecht (2006) show that
expectations regarding the symbolic effects of female
adolescent girls are more likely to indicate an intention to
executive candidates. If high-profile female executive
be politically active in the future when there are visible
candidates adopt a “masculine” political style, do not
female candidates in high-profile elections, which sug-
emphasize women’s issues, are undermined by a gen-
gests a “role model effect.” However, other scholars have
dered media coverage, and are sometimes perceived as
found little empirical evidence to support the argument
the extension of a political project initiated by a charis-
that salient female candidates lead to a more engaged
matic male leader, they might not produce strong sym-
female electorate in elections for the U.S. Congress and
bolic effects on women’s political engagement. This
U.S. state legislative elections. In particular, viable
paper lays out these competing theoretical expectations
female candidates do not seem to increase voter turnout
and provides an empirical test of the symbolic effects
among women (Broockman 2014; Dolan 2006; Lawless
of female executive candidates with a large cross-
national data set.
The paper will proceed as follows. First, I will review
the existing literature on the symbolic effects of female
Theory: Symbolic Effects of Female
candidates. Second, I will present a theoretical frame-
Executive Candidates
work that advances competing expectations regarding the
In this paper, I assess whether salient female candidates in
impact of high-profile female executive candidates on the
high-profile national elections increase women’s political
political engagement of women. Third, I present the
engagement during the electoral process. To study this
research design and the data used to test these arguments.
question, it is essential to consider the specific character-
Finally, I present and discuss the results of a series of
istics of national executive elections3 as well as the unique
hierarchical logistic regressions.
challenges faced by women when they are candidates to
occupy the top executive position in their country.
Previous Research on Female
Viable executive candidates have a higher status and a
Candidates and Women’s Political
higher visibility than other female politicians. Women
executive leaders should generate strong symbolic effects
because they send strong signals that women belong in
Although there is limited comparative research on the
the public sphere (Alexander and Jalalzai 2016). Women
effect of female candidates on the political engagement of
running visible campaigns to break the “highest glass
women, this question has been addressed several times in
ceiling” (Murray 2010a) should produce stronger sym-
the context of the United States. Most previous research
bolic effects on the political engagement of women than
focuses on the symbolic effects of female legislative and
female legislative candidates.
gubernatorial candidates. This literature identifies three
In most countries, there have been few women run-
key factors that can mobilize women in competitive inter-
ning viable national executive campaigns, and even fewer
gender races (Dolan 2006). First, female candidates can
have become heads of government. The executive power

Political Research Quarterly 70(1)
has remained for a long time an exclusive male arena

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