More Women Candidates: The Effects of Increased Women’s Presence on Political Ambition, Efficacy, and Vote Choice

Date01 July 2021
Published date01 July 2021
Subject MatterArticles
American Politics Research
2021, Vol. 49(4) 368 –380
© The Author(s) 2021
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/1532673X211006386
Even though women remain underrepresented at every level
of government in the U.S., more and more women are run-
ning for office and winning. The midterm elections in 2018
saw a record-breaking number of women candidates and
Congress now has the highest number of women in office in
history. Again, 2020 had the highest number of women can-
didates ever running for congressional office for either major
party. The number of both Democratic and Republican
women running for office has increased, leading scholars,
pundits, and policymakers alike to highlight the importance
of women’s presence in politics (e.g., Davis, 2020; Zhou,
2020). That presence has the power to not only enhance the
substantive representation of women on policy, but also
increase levels of political efficacy and engagement.
Some scholars, however, have found null or, at best, weak
results regarding the impact of women’s presence in politics
(Broockman, 2014; Dolan, 2006; Lawless, 2004; Wolbrecht
& Campbell, 2017) and some have considered whether a
backlash is possible (Krook, 2015). Perceptions of out-group
privilege or in-group threat may make men react negatively
to narratives about women gaining more political power.
Moreover, if the gains are politically one-sided, as they were
in 2018, then any positive effects may be asymmetrical
across party affiliation; the more Democratic women gain
office, Republican women may not experience all of the ben-
efits of descriptive representation. And when people (mis)
perceive the number of women in Congress to be high, they
are then less supportive of electing even more women
(Sanbonmatsu, 2020).
In this study, we use a survey experiment to test whether
being primed about the heightened levels of women running
for office alters reported political ambition, efficacy, and
likelihood to vote for female candidates. We do not find
strong support for the theory that more wome n running leads
to more women running; women were statistically signifi-
cantly more likely to say they would run for office after
hearing about more women candidates, but only when those
women candidates share their party identification.
Republicans a lways had hig her levels of political ambition
after hearing that more women are running, even if those
women are Democrats, but Democrats’ political ambition
was not influenced. We also do not find evidence that
women’s efficacy—or perception that they can influence
government—is positively influenced by description repre-
sentation. More women candidates also did not generally
influence support for female candidates in the future, except
that Republicans were more likely to support a female candi-
date after hearing that women’s presence in their own party
1006386APRXXX10.1177/1532673X211006386American Politics ResearchCosta and Wallace
1Dartmouth College, Hanover, NH, USA
Corresponding Author:
Mia Costa, Dartmouth College, Silsby Hall, Hanover, NH 03755-3529,
More Women Candidates: The Effects of
Increased Women’s Presence on Political
Ambition, Efficacy, and Vote Choice
Mia Costa1 and Isabel Wallace1
The effect of women in politics is vitally important for the study of representation, yet evidence is mixed on the extent
to which women’s presence influences individuals’ symbolic attitudes and behaviors. We use a priming survey experiment
to examine how information about increased women candidates in the U.S. affects political ambition, efficacy, and future
support for women candidates. We present several different patterns across gender and partisanship. Republicans report
higher political ambition after hearing about more women candidates, even when those women are running for the opposite
party. Men had higher political efficacy in response to more same-party women running, but not opposite-party women.
Importantly, our evidence does not support the widespread notion that women’s presence positively influences women’s
political efficacy or likelihood to vote for female candidates. The findings highlight the importance of considering the effects
of women’s presence not only for the group that is assumed to benefit.
gender, descriptive representation, symbolic representation, survey experiment, political efficacy

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