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Framing symbolic representation: exploring how women’s political presence shapes citizens’ political attitudes

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Research on whether descriptive representation enhances the legitimacy of, closeness to and satisfaction with political institutions, as well as levels of political engagement, has produced mixed results. This may be caused by the empirical and methodological challenges underpinning this inquiry, like reverse causation and endogeneity. To overcome such constraints, we use a framing experiment embedded in nationally representative online surveys in Spain and Portugal. We show that symbolic effects on women’s political engagement and system evaluation are fundamentally driven by perceptions of a heightened gender balance in political institutions, even when barriers to access on equal terms or gendered portrayals of women politicians’ competency are presented to respondents. Male citizens also evaluate the system more positively with frames referencing a more level political field, even when women politicians are depicted as not sufficiently prepared. Raising awareness of gains made in women’s descriptive representation is thus instrumental to positive symbolic effects.
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Keywords: descriptive representation; framing; gendered mediation; political attitudes; survey experiments; symbolic representation

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Spain 2: School of Global & Public Affairs, IE University, Spain 3: ISCTE – University Institute of Lisbon, Portugal

Publication date: June 2020

This article was made available online on December 2, 2019 as a Fast Track article with title: "Framing symbolic representation: exploring how women’s political presence shapes citizens’ political attitudes".

More about this publication?
  • The European Journal of Politics and Gender (EJPG) is a peer-reviewed journal that publishes international, cutting-edge research in the broad field of politics and gender. EJPG is the flagship journal of the European Conference on Politics and Gender (ECPG).

    EJPG is firmly embedded in global politics and gender scholarship, its scope is not limited to Europe. EJPG aims to advance gender and politics research in all its diversity. To this end it publishes Research Articles in the wide field of gender and politics, including a variety of geographical and thematic foci, methods and epistemological traditions. Contributions may rely on single-country case studies as much as cross-national comparative work or theoretical debates. The core criterion for publication is innovation and rigorous argumentation. Articles must have a clear 'take home message'.

    EJPG understands gender as a political phenomenon that shapes power relations. Gender is contextual and is influenced by the intersection of multiple social categories and identities. The processes produce patterns of political inclusion and exclusion that are sometimes immediately visible, but often also hidden. EJPG therefore studies formal and informal components of politics in local, national, transnational and global realms. Subfields encompass, but are not limited to: social movements; representation; political participation; governance; public policy; the European Union; political economy; conflict and development; citizenship; LGBTQI politics; sexuality; and international relations.

    EJPG solicits State of the Art pieces, which provide timely analyses of developments in the many subfields of politics and gender. These contributions focus on salient and contemporary themes. What are new research puzzles and dilemmas? Finally, EJPG includes a Gender Updates section, in which short descriptive pieces present data or analyses related to elections, policy changes, and public debates on gender-related issues across Europe. This section is a valuable resource for scholars, students, activists, and practitioners who may use this data for research and interventions in policy and public debate.

    For questions and pre-submission enquiries, please contact the editorial team at: [email protected]

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