Access Type

Open Access Dissertation

Date of Award

January 2014

Degree Type


Degree Name



Political Science

First Advisor

Ewa Golebiowska


Despite decades of movement towards gender parity in other aspects of American society (e.g. education, business), women remain significantly underrepresented in the political realm. Electoral bias against women cannot be blamed; when women run, women win. However, women don't seek political office in high numbers. This project builds on previous examinations of the gender gap in political ambition by proposing that a contributing factor to the likelihood someone will seek political office is their perception of electoral risk. While there have been no studies of gender-based differences in psychological response to electoral risk, differences in risk assessment have been documented between the genders in a host of other domains. The theoretical framework developed in this study suggests that these differences are rooted, in part, in biological differences between men and women that have evolved to make men more risk prone and women more risk adverse in political power seeking.

Specifically, it is hypothesized that women, as in other realms, are more apt to perceive an electoral environment as being risky. Three components of electoral risk are considered: the level of office, the cost of running, and the probability of winning. This research examines the relationship between electoral risk and political ambition (in the context of gender) in two stages. Stage One tests it experimentally using Amazon's MTurk service and, in order to provide external validity and methodological triangulation, Stage Two looks for evidence of these risk-based differences in a unique data set of actual candidacies in a sample of three U.S. states. Some limited support for a gendered theory of electoral risk aversion is found.