The unintended effects of political party affirmative action policies on female candidates’ nomination chances

Publication Date


Document Type







Some state political party organizations that hold nominating conventions implement affirmative action (AA) policies to encourage the nomination of women and minority candidates. This paper assesses whether these policies help or hinder female candidates seeking statewide office. On the one hand, these policies could benefit female candidates since they demonstrate an organization's commitment to diversity. On the other hand, diversity and AA policies may have negative, unintended consequences for female candidates such as promoting gender stereotype activation or creating a stigma of incompetence for female candidates. I examine whether and how delegates’ awareness of these policies shapes candidate evaluations, gender stereotypes, and nominee choice. I test this by analyzing unique survey data from Democratic state nominating convention delegates who evaluate candidates in statewide nominations in four states. The results suggest that while evaluations of the female candidate are not downgraded, focus on AA leads Democratic delegates to inflate their views of her male opponent. Furthermore, when delegates perceive that their party focuses on AA, they are less likely to choose the female candidate, in part because this perceived focus highlights that female candidates might lack masculine strengths. The resulting implications for female candidates and political party organizations are discussed.


gender stereotypes, female candidates, party nominations, political parties, affirmative action, political psychology

Published Version