A panel of prominent political scientists presented their research at the panel “One Hundred Years of Women Voting: The Nineteenth Amendment’s Legacy and Current Implications” on Monday, February 24, 2020. The experts discussed the political behavior of women leading up to and since the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which granted women the right to vote. Jenna Bednar, professor of political science at the University of Michigan and research faculty at the Center for Political Studies, moderated the discussion. The event was part of the U-M Department of Political Science Rubin Speaker Series and U-M Suffrage 2020 event series.
Mara Ostfeld, Christina Wolbrecht, Angela Ocampo, and Corrine McConnaughy
Popular views of women voters over the past 100 years, and what the evidence actually tells us about them
In the first several decades of women’s suffrage in the U.S., understanding of women’s political behavior was based on rhetoric, not based on data, said Wolbrecht. Data does show that married women often voted as their husbands did. Political experts interpreted this correlation as evidence of political disinterest on the part of women, but this conclusion was not based on data. Following the belief that women didn’t form independent political opinions, Gallup used quota controlled sampling that undersampled women. The American Voter describes women as following their husband’s wishes rather than voting according to their own beliefs.
Wolbrecht argues that these unsupported conclusions still matter today because these books are still read today. She emphasizes that although married women often vote as their husbands do, we don’t know who is influencing whom.
Political Pioneers: Women of Color as Candidates and Elected Officials
Angela X. Ocampo, a research fellow in the department of political science and the Center for Political Studies, presented current research assessing the representation of women of color as political candidates and elected officials. “Women don’t get access to vote until their racial group does,” said Ocampo, noting that women of color were still denied the right to vote or hold elected office on the basis of race after the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment.
Most research on women of color in elected office focuses on the federal level, but Ocampo, along with her research collaborator, Ana Oaxaca, is studying representation in local government. Their research shows that women are most likely to be elected from places that are protected by the Voting Rights Act. Following the Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby County v. Holder, which significantly weakened the Voting Rights Act, Ocampo sought to understand how the representation of women of color was affected at the local level.
To answer this, she’s analyzing data on city councils in the 300 largest U.S. cities to isolate the factors that are associated with a high proportion of women of color council members. Women of color are underrepresented in city councils, making up only 10% of council members. Ocampo finds that the more Democratic a locality is, the higher the proportion of women of color and minority council members. Proxies of political power are also important. When there is a higher proportion of more minority voters in a city, the proportion of women of color and minority council members also increases.
Ocampo concludes that gains have been made in representation, but parity is yet to be achieved. Representation of women of color and minorities depends on political pressures and the voting power of minority voters. She cautions that upward trends in the representation of women of color and minorities will likely be derailed by efforts to suppress minority votes.
Hidden Politics: Women’s Organizing and the Shape of American Democracy
Corrine McConnaughy is an Associate Professor of Political Science at George Washington University. She earned her Ph.D. at the University of Michigan and worked closely with many of the faculty during that time.
McConnaughy said that to find examples of women doing political work in the period before suffrage, we must look beyond formal suffrage organizations. Whether political organizing was taking place within suffrage organizations or other organizations, historians find common themes in women’s political activity in the period before the nineteenth amendment. Women were doing crucial service work in their communities and creating innovative ways to gain power. Importantly, women were doing political work as women, but not unified by womanhood.
The suffrage movement faced challenges because women were not seen as a promising voting bloc, McConnaughy said. Because so many people believed women would vote as their husbands did, no party stood to gain an advantage by allowing women to vote. For this reason, bi-partisan support was essential to gaining franchise. The ability to form coalitions with other groups also proved essential. Suffragists were well-organized and good at raising money, which made them attractive coalition partners.
Why Women Oppose Policies that Support Women
The final speaker was Mara Ostfeld, is a Faculty Associate with the Center for Political Studies and an Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science. She presented research she is conducting with two graduate students, Lauren Hahn and Sara Morell.
Ostfeld framed their question: “In the 100 years that women have had access to voting rights, and in the context of women constituting the majority of voters in America, why hasn’t there been more progress for policies to provide women with equitable opportunities?” She cited statistics to illustrate the issue: 20% of women say that reports of the gender pay gap are overblown; one-third of women say that women who complain about sexual harassment create more problems than they solve; another third believe that at least half of the time that women demand equality, they’re actually seeking special favors.
Family socialization is the key reason for these beliefs, according to Ostfeld. “Unlike other marginalized groups, women are not raised in women-majority environments,” she noted.
Ostfeld, Morell, and Hahn conducted a survey to gauge how women believe their family members would react to taking pro-women positions, to assess how women perceive the social costs of their beliefs within their families. The survey also asked about the polices the women supported. Ostfeld found clear evidence that women who believed they will be stigmatized for embracing policies to promote gender equality are far less likely to support those policies. Even among women respondents who recognized the gendered disparities motivating the policies, they were still less likely to support policies promoting gender equality if they felt their family members would stigmatize them for doing so.
“Racial animus is in the air we breathe,” Streeter says, “but when we look at police violence, we can get distracted by race and ignore other important factors.” Her dissertation included an experiment to examine how the race of victims of police violence determines whether the public sees the violence as just. Surprisingly, she finds that the race of the victims is less salient than expected. Instead, the social context strongly shaped the attitudes of the respondents. Those who were predisposed to consider societal and institutional forces were less likely to believe the victim deserved the outcome, compared to respondents who place sole responsibility on the individual.
Racial differences in rates of protest
Half of the people killed by police each year are white, and yet the rate of protest over white victims of police violence is very low. A dataset that Streeter is currently completing includes all publicly available information on police killings and any protests that happened in 2015-2016. For those two years, about a third of the police killings of African Americans led to some sort of protest, but when whites were killed by police, protests occurred only five percent of the time. “I argue that it’s the biggest racial gap related to policing,” Streeter says. “There are a lot of reasons we could point to why African Americans would be protesting. But why wouldn’t whites also be protesting when their community members are killed?”
When conducting field research in several different cities in the United States, Streeter asked community organizers about protests for white victims of police violence. The organizers told her that they reach out to the families of white victims, but those families often do not want to be involved with protests. Instead, many white family members express understanding and forgiveness toward the police. Streeter makes sense of these reactions by tying them to the psychological concept of a belief in a just world. The idea is that people get what they deserve and they deserve what they get. Streeter observes that even when people who hold this belief lose a member of their own family, their trust in the police remains unchanged. “If you have these beliefs, it can be like a double loss,” Streeter notes, which may explain why there are fewer protests for white victims of police violence.
The role of mentorship
Mentorship has played a large role in Streeter’s academic career. Christian Davenport became a mentor to her when she was a senior at Notre Dame. At that time, Streeter was thinking about her career but hadn’t considered pursuing research. While working as a research assistant for Davenport, he encouraged her to pursue graduate work in political science. Streeter cites this support as a key reason she decided to come to the University of Michigan. She also gives credit to David Laitin and Jeremy Weinstein at Stanford, who pushed her to study the United States when she was training as a comparativist. “I had confusion about what my identity as a scholar would be if I changed paths, but they put my fears to rest, so I give them a lot of credit for helping me pursue this research path,” Streeter says.
In addition to her ongoing research on police violence, Streeter is turning her attention to the ways interpersonal violence affects the way that people think and act politically. She sees connections between different types of violence, including mass shootings, domestic violence, and suicide. “We don’t often see these as political violence, but they affect how people operate in the world,” Streeter says. She’s especially interested in the ways violence affects people differently based on gender. Streeter’s work is innovative and varied, but united by a common theme, which she sums up as “How does violence affect our world, and what are the aggregate consequences of that? That’s the big picture.”
Post developed by Katherine Pearson and Dianne Pinderhughes
Drawing from published work that will be compiled as a new book, Black Politics After the Civil Rights Revolution, Dianne Pinderhughes explored the arc of 20th-century civil rights reform and the growing political incorporation of African Americans into electoral politics when she delivered the2019 Hanes Walton, Jr. lecture. A recording of the lecture is available below.
Understanding the history of collective action is essential to tracing the development of 20th-century racial politics in the United States. Pinderhughes began by describing racial injustice in the U.S. starting with thePlessy v. Ferguson decision in 1896, which some consider the nadir of race relations in the U.S. Following this era, Pinderhughes described a period of innovation and institution building beginning in the early and mid 20th century, which saw the development of legal defense funds and an increase of racial diversity in academia.
Social and political scientists recognize the gradual increase in African American political participation and the increasing numbers of elected officials of color. As the political dynamics of the eras changed, Pinderhughes described how African Americans have pushed to enter, to change, and to reframe their status.
Pinderhughes posits that the election of Donald Trump in 2016 posed a direct challenge to that framing of the evolution of successful racial reform. In doing so, she asks whether the U.S. is entering a new nadir. “My own work around these issues of democracy, political participation and efforts to integrate on a stable basis, and to begin to address the economic and political dimensions of citizenship, was challenged by how they might be framed,” Pinderhughes said. “But most of that work began from and was conceptualized within a relatively stable set of policy values and expectations, and that racial and ethnic exclusion was no longer possible, or acceptable.”
In the end, Pinderhughes concludes that the state of politics in the 21st century is far more hopeful than the nadir of the 19th and early 20th centuries. Institutional reforms have substantially recreated the American electoral and political process. Race is central to American life, and it will continue to be a dynamic force in electoral politics.
The Hanes Walton, Jr. lecture series was launched in 2015, in honor ofHanes Walton, Jr. One of the most influential and productive political scientists to emerge from the civil rights era, Walton published numerous journal articles, several book chapters, and authored more than twenty books. Walton is remembered for his in-depth subject knowledge, sense of humor, and ability to connect with his students. He was a caring and supportive mentor to his countless graduate and undergraduate students, many of whom have gone on to distinguished careers in academia and industry.
Since the 2016 presidential campaign anti-immigration policies have been very popular among President Trump’s strongest supporters, though they do not present obvious benefits to the economy or national security. Strategists suppose that the intent of the anti-immigration rhetoric and policies is to energize the president’s base.
But what about people who identify with the targets of these policies, specifically Latinos? Are they mobilized against anti-immigration proposals, or are they further deterred from political participation?
The role of emotions in politics is complex. The research team begins with the observation that negative emotions do not always have negative consequences for politics. Indeed, negative emotions may promote attention and interest, and drive people to vote. They draw a distinction between different negative emotions: while anger may spur political action, fear can suppress it.
The research team fielded a nationally-representative panel survey of white and Latino registered voters before and after the 2018 midterm elections. Respondents were asked about their experience with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials and their exposure to campaign ads focused on immigration. Participants were also asked to rate their emotional reactions to the current direction of the country.
The results showed that Latinos interacted with ICE more frequently than whites did, but both groups had the same level of exposure to campaign ads. Latinos reported more anger than whites, and also more fear. In fact, among the negative emotions in the survey, fear among Latinos was highest.
In the sample the validated voting rate among Latinos was 39%; among whites in the sample it was 72%, demonstrating the under-mobilization of Latino voters. Whether Latinos vote in greater numbers in 2020 may depend on whether they are mobilized by anger against anti-immigration rhetoric, or whether they are deterred by fear stemming from policies like ICE detention and deportation.
Citizens can be well-informed about public policy only if the media accurately present information on the issues. Today’s media environment is faced with valid concerns about misinformation and biased reporting, but inaccurate reporting is nothing new. In their latest paper, Stuart Soroka and Christopher Wlezien analyze historical data on media coverage of defense spending to measure the accuracy of the reporting when compared to actual spending.
In order to measure reporting on defense spending, Soroka and Wlezien compiled text of media reports between 1980 and 2018 from three corpuses: newspapers, television transcripts, and public affairs-focused Facebook posts. Using the Lexis-Nexis Web Services Kit, they developed a database of sentences focused on defense spending from the 17 newspapers with the highest circulation in the United States. Similar data were compiled with transcripts from the three major television broadcasters (ABC, CBS, NBC) and cable news networks (CNN, MSNBC, and Fox). Although more difficult to gather, data from the 500 top public affairs-oriented public pages on Facebook were compiled from the years 2010 through 2017.
Soroka and Wlezien estimated the policy signal conveyed by the media sources by measuring the extent to which the text suggests that defense spending has increased, decreased, or stayed the same. Comparing this directly to actual defense spending over the same time period reveals the accuracy of year-to-year changes in the media coverage. For example, if media coverage were perfectly accurate, the signal would be exactly the same as actual changes in spending.
As the figure below shows, the signal is not perfect. While there are some years when the media coverage tracks very closely to actual spending, there are other years when there is a large gap between the signal that news reports send and the defense budget. The gap may not entirely represent misinformation, however. In some of these cases, the media may be reporting on anticipated future changes in spending.
For most years, the gap representing misinformation is fairly small. Soroka and Wlezien note that this “serves as a warning against taking too seriously arguments focused entirely on the failure of mass media.” This analysis shows evidence that media coverage can inform citizens about policy change.
The authors conclude that there are both optimistic and pessimistic interpretations of the results of this study. On one hand, for all of the contemporary concerns about fake news, it is still possible to get an accurate sense of changes in defense spending from the media, which is good news for democratic citizenship. However, they observed a wide variation in accuracy among individual news outlets, which is a cause for concern. Since long before the rise of social media, citizens have been at risk of consuming misinformation based on the sources they select.
We’re immersed in a media landscape full of choices. News, information, and entertainment are all at our fingertips. But does this mean that people are better informed about important issues? Is it is possible for people who aren’t interested in seeking out political news to learn about candidates and issues through the information they’re exposed to casually? Brian Weeks, Daniel S. Lane, Lauren B. Potts, and Nojin Kwak conducted two surveys to answer this question.
Motivation and opportunity play a big role in the amount of news we’re exposed to. People who are deeply interested in politics are motivated to seek out information, and as a result, they are better informed about candidates and policies.
The nature of the media environment makes it hard to avoid news and political information; many people consume news without trying. As we have more access to all types of media, we are incidentally exposed to political information. Does increased accidental exposure make up for a lack of motivation to seek out news, or does all of that information rush past us without making us more knowledgeable?
To test whether this incidental exposure to news translates into an increase in political knowledge, Weeks and his co-authors conducted a series of surveys. They collected panel survey data two waves during the 2012 presidential election and conducted another two waves of surveys during the 2016 presidential election. The surveys asked participants about whether they were exposed to political information they didn’t seek out, their level of political interest, and measured their knowledge of candidates’ policy positions.
The surveys showed strong evidence that people who had incidental exposure to news about presidential candidates knew more about the candidates’ policy positions.
The biggest benefit of incidental exposure was seen in the group of people who rated themselves least politically interested, which suggests that greater exposure can make up for a lack of motivation to seek out news.
Knowledge of candidates and their policy positions is still essential for well-informed citizens, and the growth of opportunities to be exposed to news from many sources may reduce gaps in knowledge.