Sexism and Voting for Women Candidates: Evidence from Britain, the United States, and Canada

Research suggests that when women stand as candidates for elected office, they do not face an electoral penalty. However, this ignores potential heterogeneity in voters’ willingness to support female candidates. We explore how sexism – specifically ambivalent sexism – affects voters’ decisions to vote for male and female candidates in three Anglo-Saxon majoritarian countries: Britain, the United States, and Canada. We link data on candidate characteristics to vote choice data from national election studies for legislative elections in 2019 in Britain and Canada, and 2020 in the US, and estimate the effect of sexism on vote choice using conditional logit models. We find that hostile sexism, but not benevolent sexism, is negatively associated with voting for women, and positively associated with voting for men. These results vary by country context: they are strongest in the United States, less strong but still found in Britain, and not found in Canada. These results suggest that sexist attitudes may present a barrier to electing women, but this does not universally hold across country contexts. Moreover, we find the effects of sexism on vote choice in Britain and the United States are stronger for female voters, suggesting that candidate gender may be more salient for women in the electorate than men.