NEW YORK – While the U.S. currently has more women holding political office now than at any other time in the nation’s history, women comprise less than 30 percent of elected officials in Washington and at the state level. The 2020 election features an opportunity to close the gender gap: well-financed female candidates are leading high-profile campaigns, including Amy McGrath in Kentucky, MJ Hegar in Texas, and Barbara Bollier in Kansas. But while money and media coverage can be an important launching pad, new research from Columbia Business School shows why Bollier may have one of the strongest chances to win: the Kansas state senator is pursuing an open seat.
Using a comprehensive dataset and a novel bootstrapping method, a new study from Adam Galinsky, the Paul Calello Professor of Leadership and Ethics at Columbia Business School, analyzed electoral results from every U.S. Senate and gubernatorial election since 1920. Co-written with Management PhD graduate Brian Pike, the research shows that as challengers, men were 300 percent more likely to win an election than women, but for open seats, men were only 25 percent more likely to win than women. Importantly, women and men win at the same rate when they seek reelection. The fact that gender disparities are not present among incumbents suggests that incumbency delivers a potent “power shield” for women against gender bias: the strong bias against female challengers tends to disappear when candidates are deemed to have “higher power.” Therefore, gender differences are often just power differences in disguise.
These findings provide strong quantitative evidence that women do, in fact, face discrimination in politics and that the headwind is especially strong against women who are in low-power positions, such as challengers. The research recommends that women target open seats for best chances to win elections as being a female challenger against an incumbent represents an uphill battle.
The study, The Power Shield: Powerful Roles Eliminate Gender Disparities in Political Elections, is available online here.
To learn more about the cutting-edge research being conducted at Columbia Business School, please visit www.gsb.columbia.edu.
About the researchers
Adam Galinsky is the Vice Dean for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and Paul Calello Professor of Leadership and Ethics and at the Columbia Business...Read more.