The increasing importance of women in politics is a common feature of almost all advanced industrial societies. Women have become increasingly active in most aspects of political life during the 1970s: as voters, as lobbyists and, perhaps most significantly of all, as candidates for election to public office. The traditional prejudice against women in public life, which assumes women to be less suited to politics by temperament and training, suggests that they could be expected to receive fewer votes than men in an election. But it is unclear to what extent this prejudice has been mitigated by the broad changes which have taken place in women's roles in recent years. Can we still expect women candidates to fare less well than their male counterparts?
Such eviddce as there is in Australia suggests that the parties are less likely to nominate women but that, once nominated, women candidates fare neither better nor worse than men. Sawer concludes that ‘the differential electoral fortunes of male and female candidates has always reflected the failure to pre-select women for safe and winnable seats, not any failure to win votes.’ In a similar vein Mackerras argues that ‘the average performance of women is neither better nor worse than that of men. Women will be elected when parties select them for winnable seats.’ Research in the United States and Britain also suggests that a candidate's sex does not matter: Darcy and Schramm found that sex did not matter in the United States, controlling for incumbency and party, and in an analysis of three British general elections, Hills concluded that ‘the gender of a candidate makes only a very small difference to the voters.’