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Gender and Representation: A Tradeoff Between Policy and Constituency Service?

Gender and Representation: A Tradeoff Between Policy and Constituency Service?

Picture of Professor Danielle Thomsen
February 14, 2018 - 11:30am to 1:00pm
Encina Hall West, Room 400 (GSL)
Event Speaker: 
Danielle Thomsen, Assistant Professor of Political Science, Syracuse University
Event Sponsor: 
The Munro Lectureship Fund and The Lane Center

A growing body of research shows that women legislators outperform their male counterparts in the legislative arena, but scholars have yet to examine whether the same pattern emerges in nonpolicy aspects of representation. We conducted a field study of 6,000 U.S. state legislators to analyze whether female legislators outperform or underperform male legislators on constituency service in light of the extra effort they spend on policy. We find that women are more likely to respond to constituent requests than men, even after accounting for their heightened level of policy activity. We explore two mechanisms for why women are more responsive to constituent requests, and our analyses suggest that Anzia and Berry’s (2011) sex-based selection argument is also applicable to gender differences in constituency service. We then demonstrate that this finding is not a function of staff responsiveness, legislator ideology, or increased responsiveness to female constituents or gender issues. The results provide additional evidence that women perform better than their male counterparts across a range of representational activities.


Danielle Thomsen is an Assistant Professor in the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University. She received her Ph.D. from Cornell University in 2014. Before coming to Syracuse, she was a post-doctoral fellow in the Political Institutions and Public Choice Program (PIPC) at Duke University.

Her research interests include American politics, political parties, U.S. Congress, and gender and politics. She just completed a book manuscript that examines the rise of partisan polarization in Congress, titled Opting Out of Congress: Partisan Polarization and the Decline of Moderate Candidates (New York: Cambridge University Press). The central argument is that the benefits of serving in Congress today are too low for moderates to run, further exacerbating the ideological gulf between the two parties.