Role Models or Partisan Models? The Effect of Prominent Women Officeholders


Women remain underrepresented in state and national elected positions compared to their share of the population. This article examines whether the presence of women in prominent political office leads to an increase in the number of women serving in state legislatures. Contrary to previous work on this topic, we find that the effect of electing women to prominent office on the subsequent gender composition of state legislatures is partisan in nature. Using an original dataset covering the years 1975 through 2019, we test whether the proportion of women serving in state legislatures increases as a result of either the number of women elected to prominent office in a state or the length of a state’s history of electing women to these positions. We find that the effects diverge by partisanship. The election of prominent Democratic women leads to an increase in the proportion of Democratic women state legislators, while the election of Republican women leads to a decrease in the proportion of Republican women state legislators. Rather than serving as role models for women of both parties to enter the political pipeline, electing more women to prominent office is contributing to a greater representational gap between the parties in state legislatures.

Forthcoming, State Politics and Policy Quarterly