Strategic Discrimination

Perspectives on Politics,

Posted: 1 Jul 2019 Last revised: 17 Sep 2020

See all articles by Regina Bateson

Regina Bateson

University of Ottawa, Graduate School of Public and International Affairs; University of Ottawa, Faculty of Law

Date Written: May 15, 2020


Why are women and people of color underrepresented in US politics? This paper offers a new explanation: strategic discrimination. Strategic discrimination occurs when an individual discriminates against a candidate out of concern that others will object to the candidate's identity. In a series of three experiments, I find that strategic discrimination exists, it matters for real-world politics, and it can be hard to overcome. The first experiment shows that Americans consider white male candidates more electable than equally qualified black and white women, and to a lesser extent, black men. These results are strongly intersectional, with black female candidates rated less electable than either black men or white women. The second experiment shows that anti-Trump voters weigh Democratic candidates’ racial and gender identities when deciding who is most capable of beating Donald Trump in 2020. The third experiment finds that although some messages intended to combat strategic discrimination have no effect, diverse candidates can increase their perceived electability by showing they have a path to victory. I conclude by arguing that strategic discrimination is especially salient in contemporary US politics due to three parallel trends: increasing diversity among candidates, heightened societal awareness of sexism and racism, and extreme political polarization.

This paper was published by Perspectives on Politics in 2020. Please see the version of record at: .

Keywords: Gender discrimination, racial discrimination, US politics, 2020 presidential election, primary elections, candidate emergence, experimental methods

Suggested Citation

Bateson, Regina, Strategic Discrimination (May 15, 2020). Perspectives on Politics,, Available at SSRN: or

Regina Bateson (Contact Author)

University of Ottawa, Graduate School of Public and International Affairs ( email )

75 Laurier Avenue East
Ottawa, Ontario K1N 6N5

University of Ottawa, Faculty of Law ( email )

57 Louis Pasteur Street
Ottawa, Ontario K1N 6N5

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