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The Latina Advantage

[ Latino/a Studies ]

The Latina Advantage

Gender, Race, and Political Success

By Christina E. Bejarano

Challenging common assumptions and offering new alternatives in the debate over the current political status of women, this data-driven study indicates that minority female political candidates often have a strong advantage over male opponents when seeking political office.

September 2013


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6 x 9 | 195 pp. | 9 charts, 47 tables

ISBN: 978-0-292-74564-3

During the past decade, racial/ethnic minority women have made significant strides in U.S. politics, comprising large portions of their respective minority delegations both in Congress and in state legislatures. This trend has been particularly evident in the growing political presence of Latinas, yet scholars have offered no clear explanations for this electoral phenomenon—until now.

In The Latina Advantage, Christina E. Bejarano draws on national public opinion datasets and a close examination of state legislative candidates in Texas and California to demonstrate the new power of the political intersection between race and gender. Underscoring the fact that racial/ethnic minority women form a greater share of minority representatives than do white women among white elected officials, Bejarano provides empirical evidence to substantiate previous theoretical predictions of the strategic advantage in the intersectionality of gender and ethnicity in Latinas. Her evidence indicates that two factors provide the basis for the advantage: increasingly qualified candidates and the softening of perceived racial threat, leading minority female candidates to encounter fewer disadvantages than their male counterparts.

Overturning the findings of classic literature that reinforce stereotypes and describe minority female political candidates as being at a compounded electoral disadvantage, Bejarano brings a crucial new perspective to dialogues about the rapidly shifting face of America’s electorate.


Introduction. Challenges to the Double Disadvantage Theory

Part I: Attitudinal Advantages for Latinas

  • Chapter 1. Gender and Racial Attitudes in Politics
  • Chapter 2. Positive Interaction of Gender and Race/Ethnicity

Part II: Political and Electoral Advantages for Latinas

  • Chapter 3. Predicting Latina Political Office-holding
  • Chapter 4. Diverse State Legislators in Texas
  • Chapter 5. Diverse State Legislators in California

Conclusion. Explanations for Latina Political Success




Chapter 1

Gender and Racial Attitudes in Politics

Voter bias is an influential dynamic that has the potential to impede the electoral success of both women and minorities in the United States. Previous researchers have focused their analysis of voter bias and political disadvantages on either women or, separately, racial/ethnic minorities.

Bias can also have an interactive influence, with gender influencing pro-social (or progressive) racial attitudes and race influencing progressive gender-role attitudes. Racial/ethnic minorities and women are politically influenced by their shared experiences of discrimination in society at large. This chapter includes an examination of racial/ethnic-minority female and white female racial and gender attitudes, as a means of assessing whether these groups are more likely than white males to support racial/ethnic minorities and females in political office.

Impact of Gender on Progressive Racial Attitudes

Some early studies conducted mainly by sociologists and psychologists examined the impact of gender on social tolerance. Additional studies considered the influence of gender on support for progressive government racial policies . Gender has also been linked to social distance questions.

A predominant strand in this literature derives from social structural theories, which combine race and class to explain the social positions or attitudes of a racial group. Social structural theories focus on the group members' perceived relationship to other groups, which influences their racial attitudes. White men and women should have the same racial attitudes since they share the same racial position. For example, a white women's position in the white racial group should be more important than her experience as a woman in determining her racial attitudes.

Contrary to this social structural hypothesis, another strand in the literature highlights a significant gender difference in whites' progressive racial attitudes: white women expressed more favorable racial attitudes than white males. This key difference has been attributed to women's generally more pro-social attitudes, which include their views on race. Women showed a greater concern for others and focused on relationships, which fostered more favorable racial attitudes. Further, this group of researchers found that women are also generally more liberal on "racial policy aimed at achieving equality".

Gender has been shown to have a significant impact on progressive racial attitudes relating to politics. However, previous research focused primarily on the impact of gender on whites' racial attitudes, and should be expanded to include racial/ethnic-minority groups in this examination.

Impact of Race on Progressive Gender Attitudes

Next, I turn to another key dynamic: the impact of a person's race or ethnicity on her or his gender-related attitudes. An analysis of gender attitudes typically includes questions that assess a person's attitude toward set gender roles in society. Gender-role attitudes range from very strict and traditional ideas about the "proper place" for men and women up to nontraditional, or egalitarian, attitudes. "Traditional sex-role socialization" refers to women being taught to be passive individuals who should focus on family responsibilities and building a strong home life, while men are taught to be assertive, independent, and goal-oriented. Enacting these distinct roles can cause women to have lower levels of political interest and aspiration because they are taught by society to view their roles differently. From this perspective politics can be considered to be a man's world and inappropriate for women.

Many previous findings on gender-role attitudes among racial/ethnic minorities are often contradictory. The first group of research includes authors that argue that Latino men and women, as well as black men, all demonstrate more traditional gender-role attitudes than other racial groups. Ransford and Miller analyzed the General Social Survey data on gender-role attitudes, as well as race and gender differences in sex-role outlooks. They found no difference between black and white women's feminist outlooks. However, they did find that black men had more traditional views than white men in terms of the view that "the woman's place is in the home" and concerns about the "emotional suitability of women in politics".

Another group of researchers argue that minority men and women do not demonstrate significantly more traditional gender-role attitudes than whites. Further conclusions have been that male dominance is not significantly greater among Latinos than whites, and that racial/ethnic-group membership can shape gender-related attitudes. Additionally, blacks do not have more traditional gender-role attitudes than other groups, and in fact demonstrate more egalitarian gender-role attitudes than whites.

This racial dynamic has also been examined in respect to specific political questions (Ransford and Miller 1983; Sigelman and Welch 1984), including public support of a female candidate for president. Previous research does not find significant racial differences in men's attitudes to this issue. However, African American men appear generally less likely than African American women to support a woman candidate for president.

Racial/ethnic differences in gender attitudes can be attributed to blacks' increased experience with inequality and their history of more-egalitarian family practices. This experience can lead blacks (men and women) to "greater criticism of gender inequality in the country". Other minority group members' additional experiences with racial and ethnic discrimination can also lead to greater awareness of gender inequality. This increased understanding can produce more support for social action among minority women and black men, through such devices as the women's movement. It is clear that race and ethnicity can have a significant impact on progressive gender attitudes relating to women's role in politics.

Theory and Argument

There are interesting dynamics involved in exploring the influence of a person's gender or race on their own racial or gender attitudes. Gender can have a softening influence on racial views among whites, which can lead to white females' increased support of progressive racial attitudes. Race/ethnicity can also have a softening effect on gender attitudes of minorities, which can lead to minorities' increased support of progressive gender attitudes. These two theories on gender and racial attitudes are combined in this chapter in order to examine the interactive effects of both.

First it is necessary to discern the respondents' general attitude toward minorities in politics and their racial attitudes, and then test for gender differences in relation to racial/ethnic groups and racial differences in relation to gender. The expectation is that minority respondents will be more supportive of progressive racial attitudes than white males. Further, white females are expected to be more sympathetic than white males to minorities' attempts to enter politics. This leads to hypothesis 1: 

H1: White women are more likely than white men to hold progressive racial attitudes.

Next, the respondents' general attitude toward women in politics--their gender attitudes--must be determined to test for gender and racial differences among all racial/ethnic groups. Females are expected to be more sympathetic than males to females' attempts to enter politics. Minority respondents are also expected to be more supportive than white males of progressive gender attitudes, which is hypothesis 2.

H2: Minorities are more likely than white men to hold progressive gender attitudes.

This analysis provides timely insight on the public's attitude toward underrepresented groups in politics. It offers support to the theory that minority female candidates, including Latinas, can expect to receive increased electoral support from both minorities and white females.


National public opinion data from the General Social Survey (GSS) cumulative dataset--compiled from 1972 until 2010--is used to test the two hypotheses. The GSS is an annual interview survey of U.S. households conducted by the National Opinion Research Center (NORC). This data "tracks the opinions of Americans over the last four decades" (GSS 1998). This analysis uses weights to provide an accurate account of the makeup of the national population.

Racial Attitudes

My first analysis investigates the influence of gender and race/ethnicity on respondents' progressive racial attitudes. The GSS question seeking to determine the respondent's willingness to vote or support blacks in politics is worded as follows: (a) If your party nominated a (black/African American) for president, would you vote for him if he were qualified for the job? This question is coded as a dichotomous ("yes"/"no") variable, with "one" signifying support of a black candidate for president.

This is the type of question predominantly used in all national surveys to discern the level of support for any minority in politics; it is also the only question of its kind currently available in surveys. This question was previously only hypothetical, but became realistic with the 2008 election of President Barack Obama.

The survey goes on to present four questions that assess the respondent's racial attitudes toward various racial/ethnic groups, testing for gender/racial differences in the process. These questions were used by the GSS for their 2002 wave and include (b) Feelings towards Latinos, blacks, Asians, or whites. They are recorded on a scale of "nine"--representing very warm feelings toward the particular racial/ethnic group--to "one"--representing very cool feelings. 

Gender Attitudes

The second section of the survey utilizes several questions that assess the respondents' view of the role of women in politics, or their progressive gender attitudes. The GSS question asks about the respondent's willingness support a female candidate for President: (a) If your party nominated a woman for president, would you vote for her if she were qualified for the job? The question is coded as a dichotomous variable, with "one" signifying support for such a candidate. This question is also the one used in all national surveys to examine the support of women candidates. Further, it is now more realistic, after Hillary Clinton's candidacy for president in 2008, to ask the public if they will support a female candidate for president.

Three additional GSS questions focus on gender-role attitudes in respect to women working outside of the home and participating in politics and the community. Support for females in politics is measured by pro-female or progressive gender responses to the following questions: 

(b) Do you agree or disagree with this statement? Women should take care of running their homes and leave running the country up to men. [progressive gender response is"disagree"]

(c) Do you approve or disapprove of a married women earning money in a business or industry if she has a husband capable of supporting her? [progressive gender response is "approve"]

(d) Tell me if you agree or disagree with this statement: Most men are better suited emotionally for politics than are most women. [progressive gender response is "disagree"]

The gender-role questions were previously used in other studies to examine gender-role ideology; intercorrelations among the items range from 0.17 to 0.54.

The four gender questions have not been combined into an index for this analysis and instead are examined separately to provide a clearer idea of individual progressive gender attitudes. The four questions provide the most appropriate avenue for assessing gender views, since they are the only questions of this kind that ask about support for women in politics. The responses to the four questions will be used to test for the racial and gender differences in progressive gender attitudes among all the respondents.

Independent Variables

Descriptive identity characteristics of each respondent--gender and race/ethnicity--are used to provide a clearer picture of how identity can influence gender and racial attitudes. Dichotomous variables are coded for "white female," "white male," "black female," "black male," "'other race' female," "'other race' male," "Latina," and "Latino male."

The dataset from the years under study includes 24,260 (44 percent) male respondents and 30,827 (56 percent) female respondents. The racial makeup is 44,873 white respondents (81.5 percent), 7,625 black respondents (13.8 percent), and 2,589 "other race" respondents (4.7 percent). The GSS began including an ethnicity question for "Hispanic (Latino)" in their 2000 wave; the dataset includes 1,715 of the Latino respondents (3.1 percent).

There are other demographic variables that can influence a respondent's support for either progressive racial or progressive gender attitudes. Marital status is expressed as a dichotomous variable for "married";the dataset includes 29,861 married respondents (54.2 percent). Age is an ordinal variable with three categories of age groups, including "one" for "18–34 years" (32.4 percent), "two" for "35–50 years" (30.4 percent), and "three" for "51+ years" (37.1 percent). The respondent's highest level of education is coded as an ordinal variable with "zero" representing "some high school education" (22.5 percent), "one" for "high school degree" (51.6 percent), "two" for "some college" (5.3 percent), "three" for "college degree" (13.9 percent), and "four" for "graduate school degree" (6.7 percent). Income is coded as an ordinal variable with "one" representing "low income" (less than $10,000/year) (29.1 percent), "two" for middle income" ($10,000–24,999/year) (35.1 percent), and "three" for "high income"($25,000/year and higher) (35.8 percent).

Religion is another potential influence on gender/racial attitudes and is expressed in this analysis as the two most reported religious identifications, with dichotomous variables for "Protestant" (59.1 percent)and "Catholic" (24.5 percent). Gender and racial attitudes can also be influenced by political party affiliation; the dataset includes political party dichotomous variables for "Democrat" (37.4 percent), "Republican" (25.8 percent), and "Independent" (35.4 percent).

Data Analysis and Results: U.S. Gender and Racial Attitudes

The influence of gender and race/ethnicity on both progressive racial and gender attitudes can be traced over time by means of the GSS data from 1972 until 2010. The 1960s and 1970s saw dramatic changes in both racial and gender attitudes in U.S. society. The feminist and civil rights movements challenged traditional gender roles and racially biased attitudes. Therefore, it is expected that respondents will hold more progressive gender and racial attitudes after the 1970s.

Support for Black and Female Candidates for President

White female respondents show a higher level of support, in Figure 1.1, for a black candidate for president than do white male respondents, and the level of white support also increases steadily from 1972 thru 2010. Black and "other race" male respondents started off with less support than white male respondents for a female candidate for president in the 1970s, but come to report higher levels of support after 2000. The respondents' level of support for both a black and a female candidate for president has increased steadily over time for each racial/ethnic group (see also Table A.1 in the appendix).

Next, a multivariate analysis--utilizing data on respondent attitudes from the GSS for 1982–2010--provides a stronger idea of progressive gender and racial attitudes after the 1970s. Logistic regression was used to examine the respondents' likelihood of supporting a black and a female candidate for president, and the results are reported in Table 1.1, with unstandardized logit regression coefficients, standard errors, and the estimated changes in predicted probabilities. White male respondents, compared to the other racial/ethnic groups and white females, are less likely to support a black candidate for president. White females and "other race" females are about 2 percent more likely than white males to support a black candidate for president, supporting H1. Black females and black males are also 6.4 to 7.1 percent more likely than white males to support a black candidate for president.

The relationships hold even when we control for the demographic variables used in the model, including the respondent's marital status, age, education, and religion. Protestants and older respondents are less likely to support a black candidate for president. Respondents who are married and have a higher education are positively associated with supporting a black candidate. Democrats and Independents are also more likely than Republicans to support a black candidate. The respondents in the later GSS waves are more likely than respondents in earlier waves to support progressive racial attitudes toward a black candidate for president.

White females and black females are also more likely than white males to support a female candidate for president, by about 2 percent. "Other race" males are less likely than white males to support the female candidate, by 5.5 percent. Respondents who are older and Protestant are negatively associated with support for a female candidate for president. Respondents who have a higher education level and a higher income, as well as being Democratic or Independent, are also positively associated with supporting a female candidate for president. The year of the GSS wave is again a significant factor, with respondents in the most recent GSS waves, closer to the year 2010, reporting more progressive gender attitudes toward a female candidate for president than in earlier waves .

Feelings Toward Other Racial/Ethnic Groups and Gender-Role Attitudes

The next analysis, in Table 1.2, looks at the influence of gender and race/ethnicity on the level of positive feelings each respondent has for various racial/ethnic groups. Logistic regression is used to examine the respondents' feelings toward Latinos, blacks, Asians, and whites during the 2002 wave of the GSS.

White females continue to demonstrate more progressive racial attitudes than white males. White females are 7 to 11.8 percent more likely than white males to report warm feelings toward all other racial/ethnic groups. The racial/ethnic-minority respondents report warmer feelings, as compared to white male respondents, toward their respective racial/ethnic groups. More specifically, black male respondents also feel warmer towards Latinos, blacks, and Asians, compared to white male respondents. Further, younger respondents are more likely than older respondents to view all racial and ethnic groups warmly, which demonstrate the more progressive racial attitudes of younger generations. The respondents' higher level of education also has a positive relationship with positive feelings towards Latinos, blacks, and Asians.

The next analysis, in Table 1.3, tests the influence of race on the three progressive gender-role attitudes. White females are positively associated with supporting all of the pro-female-related questions. Black females are positively associated with the two questions that show support of a female role outside of the home and agreement that females are suited to politics, but negatively associated with support for married females working. Black males and "other race" males are negatively associated with all the pro-female questions, by 3 to 11 percent, and therefore exhibit more traditional gender-role attitudes compared to white males. This trend toward more traditional gender attitudes can point to a potential obstacle for racial/ethnic-minority women candidates seeking political support from minority men.

There is a similar relationship with the other demographic variables in the models and respondents' progressive gender-role attitudes, compared to those in the previous models. Respondents who are older and Protestant (Catholic for two questions) are negatively associated with all three progressive gender-role attitudes. The respondents who have a higher education level and higher income are positively associated with all three progressive gender-role questions. Married respondents are less supportive than non-married respondents of females having a role outside the home and of agreeing that females are suited to politics. Democrats or Independents are more likely than Republicans to support two of the progressive gender-role questions. Time is also a factor in the models, with respondents in later GSS waves showing a positive association with two of the progressive gender-role questions.


Overall, white women are more likely than white males to cross racial barriers and support a black candidate for president. White females may also be more likely to support other minority candidates for lower-level offices. Although people tend to overreport their pro-social attitudes in national survey questions, the survey question asks about support for a high level of office, one which would generally be much harder for minority candidates to aspire to attain--at least before the 2008 election of Barack Obama. Supporting a minority candidate for lower-level offices, including Congress and a state legislature, is more reasonable than supporting them for president. Therefore, this finding can be said to point to an underrepresentation of the willingness of females to support minorities in politics.

White females also demonstrate more progressive gender and racial attitudes than white males. White females appear to be a key group to provide electoral support for both females and minorities in politics. These findings put minority women candidates in a unique position, since they usually have more access to the female electorate. Females, especially white females, can be expected to be more likely than males to support minority females in politics. This finding applies to minority women in general, due to the composition of the GSS data; however, the theory can also be expanded to speak to support for Latinas in particular.

Minority males are less likely than white males to display more progressive or pro-female gender attitudes. Black males generally oppose progressive gender-role attitudes and only divert from this more traditional position when it comes to supporting a female candidate for president. However, this minority male trend of more traditional gender-role attitudes can be minimized by their motivation to support co-racial/ethnic-minority females in politics. For instance, Latino men reveal more progressive gender attitudes when it comes to supporting Latinas, their co-ethnic counterparts, in politics.

Both of these findings demonstrate the importance of studying gender and racial identity differences within politics. In order to gain a clearer understanding of this dynamic, it is important to further study the influence of gender and race on public opinion in relation to other political attitudes or decisions. The next chapter explores the additional political influence of these descriptive characteristics--race/ethnicity and gender--for both politicians and respondents.

Christina E. Bejarano is Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Kansas. She is a specialist in American politics, minority political behavior, and political psychology.

The Latina Advantage makes an important contribution to the debate about minority women’s access to elective office. It provides needed attention to the growth in Latina officeholding and identifies the unique opportunities facing Latinas in politics. It will be widely read because Latinas are increasingly central to research on U.S. elections and representation.”
—Kira Sanbonmatsu, Professor of Political Science and Senior Scholar at the Center for American Women and Politics, Rutgers University