The Role of Emotions in the Symbolic Representation of Women in US Politics

My dissertation provides a new framework for understanding the relationship between gendered political representation and civic engagement through the mechanism of emotions, such as anger, fear, and enthusiasm. I analyze congressional candidates’ rhetoric about women and gendered policy issues, such as reproductive health care, sexual violence, child care, pay equity, racial justice, and LGBTQ+ rights. I then consider how citizens’ emotional responses to elite rhetoric impact their levels of civic engagement at the intersection of gender, race, ethnicity, and partisan identity.

Methodologically, my dissertation includes a quantitative and qualitative content analysis of congressional campaign websites, interviews with women campaign volunteers for congressional candidates, and a secondary survey analysis of American National Election Studies data from 1980 to 2016. The content analysis allows me to examine how candidates have rhetorically represented women in elections favoring Republicans (2010) and Democrats (2018). The interviews allow me to uncover women’s motivations to participate in politics in 2018. Finally, the survey analysis enables me to examine the relationships between emotions and civic engagement over time and with nationally representative samples.

Chapter 1 introduces the motivation for the project and my approach to studying the representation of women in US politics. Chapter 2 reviews and integrates relevant literatures on women’s representation, political engagement, group identities, and emotion that contribute to my theoretical framework. In Chapter 3, I identify patterns in congressional candidates’ rhetoric about women and gendered policy issues in successful electoral cycles for Republicans (2010) and Democrats (2018). Specifically, I examine the ways in which women’s gender, race, ethnic, and partisan identities are co-constituted in candidate rhetoric. I also analyze emotional responses to candidates’ descriptive and rhetorical representation using interviews with 2018 congressional campaign volunteers. Chapters 4 and 5 utilize survey data from the American National Election Studies (ANES) between 1980 and 2016 to demonstrate how positive and negative emotions mobilize women in the electorate over time and in varied electoral contexts. While Chapter 4 investigates overall trends for women as compared with men, Chapter 5 turns to partisan, racial, and ethnic differences among women. Finally, Chapter 6 offers concluding remarks and implications of this research for women’s political inclusion in US politics.