9.15.2009

Females "Outperform" Male Members of Congress?

Politico posts a story with a teaser headline declaring that women outperform men as lawmakers.

Naturally, I was curious to see how the publication defined "outperform."  I found my skepticism pretty much right on target.

The chief markers employed by the study at the heart of the article show a very biased definition of "success" in my opinion:

That’s the preliminary conclusion of a study conducted by researchers at Stanford University and the University of Chicago, who say that on average, women in Congress introduce more bills, attract more co-sponsors and bring home more money for their districts than their male counterparts do.

Introducing more bills?  What if introducing fewer bills (and thereby limiting the increase in the size of government, government expenditures, and frivolous resolutions) is actually what a majority of a given district views as preferable?

The same goes for bringing home the bacon.  The distributive model of politics is not the only prism through which to view politics.  What if the majority of a district's electorate views pork as shameful due to true fiscal conservatism?  The average female representative's metrics would be a drawback, not a mark of improvement, compared to the average male representative.

Overall, I found the article rather overreaching in its framing at the very least and quite naive in its belief that it could control for a host of variables.  As I've noted before, the political expectations of electorates for their representatives in, say...eastern Wisconsin and southern Louisiana...are drastically different.

Obtaining more co-sponsors is really the only advantage of the average female legislator over the average male legislator I can see that applies across the board regardless of philosophy.  It's a better raw indicator of an ability to build consensus on a given issue. 

One thing not mentioned in the article, which discusses the relative rarity of female legislators in the grand scheme of things, is the potential novelty factor - the prospect female members' success in obtaining co-sponsors stems in part from their rarity.  Under that hypothesis, as women continue to expand their presence in government, they may draw fewer co-sponsors as they begin to stand out less from the legislative body as time moves along.