Women Are Rating Female Lawmakers As More Competent Than Male Ones

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Two political scientists recently examined survey data about Americans' perceptions of their elected officials from 2010-2014, and came to an important conclusion: Overall, women were more likely to approve of female legislators than male legislators. Moreover, they were more likely to give female lawmakers higher ratings on competency and integrity, and generally felt that female lawmakers represented their districts well.

Mia Costa and Brian Schaffner are political scientists at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. In order to best understand how gender shapes Americans' perceptions of their representatives, NPR reported, Costa and Schaffner avoided a primary focus on partisanship in their study. Instead, they focused on Americans whose districts elected new representatives while still maintaining the seats' party affiliations. By using such a narrow pool, Costa and Schaffner were able to take a look at whether or not these new representatives were a different gender — as opposed to a different party — than the old ones.

In addition to observing that women were likely, on the whole, to view female lawmakers more favorably, Costa and Schaffner nonetheless also noted differences in attitudes across party lines.

"Women rate female Republican legislators more positively than they do male Republican legislators," the study's researchers wrote, "but neither women nor men rate Democratic legislators differently based on their gender."

In more precise terms, Democratic men tended to perceive female members of Congress more favorably than did Republican men. In fact, Republican men frequently gave female lawmakers lower ratings in integrity and competence, whereas Republican women gave significantly higher approval ratings to female legislators.

"While Democratic men evaluate women legislators more favorably, the opposite is true for Republican men," the researchers explained. "Republican men are the one group who provide lower evaluations of female elected officials."

Although this is just one study, it does seem to reflect past studies about female members of Congress. For example, back in 2009, researchers from the University of Chicago and Stanford University found that women in the House of Representatives were able to introduce more legislation, convince more people to co-sponsor their proposed legislation, and obtain more discretionary spending for their districts than their male counterparts.

A 2015 report from the Pew Research Center, meanwhile, indicated that roughly 34 percent of Americans found female lawmakers to be more effective in working out policy compromises. The Atlantic reported that although this belief is not entirely accurate, it still affects Americans' perceptions of their elected officials.