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Estimating the gender penalty in House of Representative elections using a regression discontinuity design


While the number of female candidates running for office in U.S. House of Representative elections has increased considerably since the 1980s, women continue to account for about only 20% of House members. Whether this gap in female representation can be explained by a gender penalty female candidates face as the result of discrimination on the part of voters or campaign donors remains uncertain. In this paper, I estimate the gender penalty in U.S. House of Representative general elections using a regression discontinuity design (RDD). Using this RDD, I am able to assess whether chance nomination of female candidates to run in the general election affected the amount of campaign funds raised, general election vote share and probability of victory in House elections between 1982 and 2012. I find no evidence of a gender penalty using these measures. These results suggest that the deficit of female representation in the House is more likely the result of barriers to entering politics as opposed to overt gender discrimination by voters and campaign donors.

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