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Could nominating women help Republicans win women voters?

State Sen. Joni Ernst speaks to supporters at a primary election night rally after winning the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate, Tuesday, June 3, 2014, in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

My Post colleague Aaron Blake examines eight recent Senate races in which Republicans nominated a female candidate.  He finds that, on average, the gender gap in those races wasn’t any different than in presidential elections — suggesting that nominating female candidates may not help the GOP with female voters.

At least one piece of academic research offers a somewhat different conclusion. In a 2005 article entitled “Women for Women?”, political scientist Craig Brians examined voter behavior across 300 different House races from 1990-2002 in which female and male candidates squared off.

Brians found a modest tendency for female voters to support female candidates more than male candidates: 55 percent of women voted for the female candidate while 45 percent vote for the male candidate.  Men’s votes were split 50-50.

Then, after accounting for factors such as partisanship and incumbency, Brians found no significant gender gap when a female Republican candidate faced a male Democratic candidate. But he did find a significant gender gap when a male Republican candidate faced a female Democratic candidate.  These defections were more common among Republican female voters than Republican male voters. Democratic women, by contrast, did not vote for female Republican candidates to the same extent.

Of course, one article shouldn’t be interpreted as the last word on the subject.  So I wouldn’t take Brians’s findings as definitive advice for the GOP about the possible benefits of nominating female candidates.  Nevertheless, in these House races, there were some costs to Republicans, particularly among Republican women voters, when Republican male candidates ran against Democratic women.

John Sides is an Associate Professor of Political Science at George Washington University. He specializes in public opinion, voting, and American elections.



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