The record number of women running for office this midterm election year has led to a record number of races in which both major-party candidates are women, creating an interesting real-world experiment in political science. With nine states still to hold primaries, there are already 28 congressional contests in which voters will choose between two female candidates, compared with a previous record of 17. While still a small percentage of all races (178 House contests are between two men, and 139 are between a man and a woman), this cluster is serving as fertile ground for researchers who study the role of gender in politics.
“It certainly is a cool time to have this as your specialty,” says Mirya Holman, associate professor of political science at Tulane University, who is studying gender stereotypes in political matchups between women.
“Races with two women have been so rare until very recently that there really hasn’t been much real-world research at all,” says Tessa Ditonto, assistant professor at Iowa State University, who specializes in gender and psychology in American politics. “Nearly all the research to this point has been theoretical, and there isn’t even much of that. This is a great chance to learn what we’ve had no data for.”
While knowledge gained from these current races won’t be complete until they are run, already it seems clear that the conventional wisdom — that gender ceases to be an issue in a race between two women — is wrong. “Just because two women are running doesn’t mean gender doesn’t matter,” says Kelly Dittmar, assistant research professor at the Center for American Women and Politics, part of the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers University.
She says that as recently as three years ago she was told by one researcher, “You can make the argument that the issue of gender was removed because you have two women running for governor.”
But watching women navigate this year’s races, Holman says, illustrates that “gender still matters. It just matters in different ways than in a contest where you have a woman running against a man.” READ MORE