Looking at Senate and Gubernatorial candidates from 1989 to 2008 (more than 200 elections in over 40 states), we analyze the accuracy of pre-election polls for almost the complete universe of female candidates and a matched sample of white male cases. We demonstrate that pre-election polls consistently underestimate support for female candidates when compared to white male candidates. Furthermore, our results indicate that this phenomenon — which we dub the Richards Effect, after Ann Richards of Texas — is more common in states which exhibit traits associated with culturally conservative views of gender issues.
The size of the Richards Effect is larger in states with fewer women in the labor force — which suggests it stems from conservative attitudes about the place of women in politics. This leads to an interesting conclusion. Although the Bradley Effect assumes that people conceal their true opposition to the black candidate, the Richards Effect appears to work the opposite way: people conceal their true support for the female candidate, especially in areas with culturally conservative views about gender roles.
Fascinating! Now – why are the women folks polling as if they support Rick Perry up to twice as much or more than Michele Bachmann, and, when in the polls, Sarah Palin? Is that an over, an under or an accurate?
I haven’t read the research link yet but my first questions are: How ill is it that people don’t feel they can answer a poll that shows their true support for women? Or is it that they take longer to decide on a female candidate? Or, do those who are polled simply not mirror those who vote?
As Nate concludes:
To be sure, this is speculative. Female candidates actually suffer no apparent penalty at the ballot box. As the political scientists Richard Fox and Jennifer Lawless have argued, the underrepresentation of women in higher office stems more from a gender gap in ambition and recruitment, not from sexism toward women who do decide to run for office.
But reluctance among citizens to express their support for a woman candidate — even if they might vote for her in the end — certainly does little to encourage women to run.