Politics & Gender

Does the Descriptive Representation of Gender Influence Accountability for Substantive Representation?

Philip Edward Jones

University of Delaware


Does the descriptive representation of gender affect how constituents respond to their legislators' substantive policy records? Previous work offers two distinctly opposing theories: the first, that descriptive representation may weaken accountability for substantive representation, if it leads female constituents to misperceive the incumbent's positions or give them a “free pass” on policy congruence; the second, that it may strengthen accountability, if it leads female constituents to pay greater attention to the incumbent and his or her record. Using survey data from three electoral cycles, I show that women are more likely to correctly identify their U.S. senators' policy records and weigh that record more heavily in their evaluations when they are represented by women. The descriptive representation of gender thus strengthens the links between the policy positions legislators take in office and how they are evaluated by their constituents.

Philip Edward Jones is Assistant Professor of Political Science and International Relations at the University of Delaware, Newark, DE: pejones@udel.edu


  I am grateful to Steve Ansolabehere for sharing data and advice, and to Claudine Gay, Jennifer Lawless, and Sidney Verba for comments on earlier versions of this project. All errors are my own. An Online Appendix containing additional information about the results presented in this paper is available at http://research.pejones.org