Dissertation Prospectus: Defended September 2018
Project Funding: GSU Provost’s Dissertation Fellowship ($20,000)
GSU Department of Political Science Doctoral Research Fellowship ($900)
In many ways, the political campaigns of women running in the 2018 midterm elections are anomalous to traditional American politics. From female candidates openly breastfeeding on camera to others who aggressively suggest congressmen ought to “grow a pair of ovaries” to get the job done, women are shattering gender stereotypes and redefining their roles in politics.
This dissertation investigates how and why candidates use gender stereotypes in campaign advertisements and whether these stereotyped messages impact vote choice. I primarily argue that 1.) candidates are strategic in their use of stereotyped messaging, and 2.) voters’ emotional responses to these advertisements predict candidate favorability. To examine these questions, I employ two distinct studies. Study 1 examines why and how candidates utilize stereotyped messaging in campaign advertisements using a randomized subsample content analysis of 1,400 campaign advertisements from US House and Senate races from 2010-2016. The preliminary findings suggest that candidate gender, district-level characteristics, electoral context, and partisanship influence the extent to which candidates oppose or double-down on stereotyped messaging in campaign advertisements. Study 2 employs an in-depth analysis on the effectiveness of these messaging by measuring voters’ cognitive responses and emotional reactions to these advertisements.
In Study 2, I conduct two sets of experimental analyses. This first experimental analysis explores the extent to which emotional reactions moderate the impact of voters’ preexisting stereotype beliefs. The sample consists of over 1,300 university students from five different universities across the U.S. Participants are randomly assigned to one of 10 experimental conditions (or one of two control groups) which vary the candidate’s gender, type of advertisement (attack, contrast, promote), emotional appeal of the advertisement, and merit-based messaging. I hypothesize that campaign ads which induce anxiety, fear, or anger lead the viewer to a more thorough evaluation of the candidate, thus circumventing the stereotype heuristic. Campaign ads which induce enthusiasm (or confirm the viewers’ preexisting stereotype beliefs) will result in less thorough cognitive evaluations of the candidate, thus leading the viewer to rely more heavily on the stereotype-belief when evaluating the candidate. To measure emotional reactions to campaign advertisements, a subsample of participants’ facial expressions are recorded while watching the ads (N=369). This data will be analyzed with iMotion’s Facial Action Coding System (FACS) software and cross-referenced with the participant’s survey evaluations of the candidate. A second experimental design is introduced to enhance the reliability of the findings and allow for the inclusion of additional stimuli. This data consists of a nationally representative sample (N=1,800) collected through Amazon’s Mechanical Turk (MTurk) survey platform. This experiment tests all 8 identified ad strategies by randomizing participants into one of 16 conditions varying candidate gender, emotional appeal, and merit/values-based messaging.
This research offers a novel contribution to the literature by suggesting candidates strategically use a universal set of stereotype messages to their advantage and that the effectiveness of these messages are primarily moderated by the viewer’s emotional reaction.
Charter schools have recently become a hot topic of debate in the United States. For parents who cannot afford private schooling or moving to another school district, charter schools seem to be an attractive option. These schools, which are often argued to outperform traditional schools, offer an alternative path to public education which allows teachers more flexibility to employ innovative strategies in the classroom. In order to expedite the creation of such schools, Republicans in the Georgia General Assembly called for the amending of the Georgia Constitu- tion which would allow the state to approve charters by circumventing the publicly elected local school board. This study analyzes the more recent political history of the Commission, the debate surrounding the amendment, and ultimately the vote itself for Amendment 1.