As other authors in this symposium highlight, the presence of women in campaigns and elected offices has multiple effects on our political system, ranging from increased political legitimacy to transformed political processes, issue debates, and policy outcomes in the US.
Women politicians also might encourage political engagement by other women and young girls, what we’ve termed the “role model effect.” When Hillary Clinton clinched the Democratic Party’s nomination for president in June 2016 — another important first for women in politics — she tweeted out a picture of herself dancing with a young girl. The tweet, signed by Clinton herself, read: “To every little girl who dreams big: Yes, you can be anything you want — even president. Tonight is for you.”
Both political observers and political practitioners have long expected that by countering the traditional view that politics is a man’s game, the presence of women in prominent political roles would inspire other women and young girls to greater engagement with politics as well. Yet the empirical evidence in support of this expectation has been mixed; some studies find women’s political engagement increases with female candidates, while others do not.
Our recent research suggests that being first, like Jeannette Rankin, may be important for role model effects. We looked at female candidates for major offices — US House, US Senate, and governor — to determine if the presence of female candidates affected women’s political engagement. We employed a panel survey — a study that interviews the same people at multiple points in time — in order to ascertain if individual citizens became more politically engaged if they experienced a female candidate in their district or state.
Read more at Vox.