CAWP Funds Research Projects to Identify and Address Barriers and Opportunities to Women’s Political Power

50th Years of CAWP

For five decades, the Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP) at the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers University has been committed to promoting greater knowledge and understanding about the role of women in American politics, enhancing women's influence in public life, and expanding the diversity of women in politics and government. Thanks to the generosity and commitment of Pivotal Ventures, an investment and incubation company founded by Melinda French Gates, CAWP will fund twelve research projects – including those conducted by advanced graduate students and faculty – in 2022 that help to identify and address barriers and opportunities to women’s political power.

Funded research projects were identified by both internal and external reviewers as meeting one or more priorities laid out in CAWP’s request for proposals, including leading with intersectionality, expanding research focus, and/or meeting the moment. These projects were also identified as among the most promising to yield insights that can be translated into action to increase women’s political power, including effective interventions to disrupt gender and/or intersectional biases in U.S. political institutions.

“Combined, these twelve funded projects represent an investment of over $200,000 into areas of research that have historically been under-valued and under-funded,” said Debbie Walsh, CAWP director. “This investment not only illuminates the importance of this scholarship to relevant disciplines, but we are hopeful that it will also result in actionable findings to promote women’s political progress.”



CAWP Research Grant Recipients

Doctoral Students

Understanding Modern Gender Discrimination in US Politics

Annabelle Hutchinson, Yale University

Abstract: The barriers to women and women of color's entry into political office in the United States today differ significantly from the barriers that they faced in the middle of the 20th century. While women continue to make up a minority of most U.S legislative bodies at all levels of government, recent experimental and observational research indicates a clear consensus that, all else equal, voters at the ballot box may not overtly discriminate against female candidates, suggesting that voter biases against women may not be a significant impediment to women's lack of political representation (Teele, Kalla, & Rosenbluth 2016; Coppock & Schwartz working paper; Lawless 2015). In fact, experimental research indicates that respondents voting in hypothetical elections may actually prefer female candidates over male candidates by an average of two percentage points (Coppock & Schwartz working paper). Moreover, survey results indicate that very few Americans will admit to saying that they will not vote for a female candidate (6% of Americans indicated they would not vote for a woman based on a 2019 Gallup survey) or admit they think women are not emotionally suitable for politics compared to men (13% of Americans reported they think women are not emotionally suitable for politics based on a 2018 GSS survey). What should we take away from these studies? While some argue that gender discrimination no longer exists in elections, I argue that gender discrimination in elections in the United States still exists and that its form has changed from decades past. In line with recent work by Bateson (2020), I argue that women in politics, and particularly women of color in politics, today face strategic discrimination. With support from the Center for American Women and Politics, I aim to test this theory with a series of experimental frameworks in real-world election settings.


Por Mi Gente: Gender, Citizenship, and the Power of Community in Immigrants' Risky Political Participation

Maricruz Osorio, University of California, Riverside

 Abstract: Why do some immigrant women engage in political behavior despite the risk in doing so? I argue that our answers are incomplete because we do not consider how risk varies along citizenship lines and colors the type of political engagement feasible to certain immigrant groups. For example, a protest is not as high risk for a naturalized immigrant than an undocumented person. Yet, when we look at the data, there is not much difference in the levels of participation. My theoretical contribution is to posit that immigrants make risk assessments when participating in politics by assessing risks to themselves or to their communities and by their citizenship status. These assessments, I argue, are also gendered, with women being more sensitive to community risks and therefore taking riskier actions. I explore how citizenship status, gender, and community risk perceptions affect political participation among immigrant communities using in-depth interviews and survey data.


Asian American Women in the Political Campaign: The Effect of Race and Gender Intersectionality on Female Voters

Dan Qi, Louisiana State University

Cana Kim, Louisiana State University

Abstract: This project aims to examine the effects of gender and race cues in campaign strategies on female voters’ perceptions of Asian American women candidates. Earlier studies revealed that the intersectionality between gender and racial cues affects voters’ political preferences (Smooth 2006, Brown and Lemi 2021). At the same time, gender traits in campaign ads could also play a role in shaping voters’ perception of candidates (Sapiro et al., 2011; Dolan 2014). However, the literature has focused on the intersectional effects on black women (Smooth 2006, Brown and Lemi 2021) and Latinas (Santia and Bauer 2020) while neglecting Asian American women candidates. This project develops a framework to identify the effect of intersectionality on Asian American women as an extension of an ongoing project using content analysis. With the CAWP data sets, our previous research finds that Asian American women have different campaign strategies associated with racial and gender cues than women candidates in other racial groups. In the following experimental design project, we plan to focus on female voters’ political preference for Asian American female candidates. We will recruit about 600 white women and Asian American women participants, and randomly assign them to one of the two experimental groups: Asian American female candidates with either masculine or feminine traits in her campaign ads. We contend that both gender traits and racial cues affect female voters’ candidate preferences. We expect that, first, Asian women participants will be more likely to support Asian female leaders, and second, Asian American women with masculine traits will be more supported by both white and Asian women respondents, with different significance levels as the function of the racial cue.


Harnessing the Power of Emotion: How Latinas use Emotional Appeals in their Campaign Messages

Martina Santia, Louisiana State University

Sylvia Gonzalez, Louisiana State University

Abstract: Despite the recent surge of minority women in U.S. politics, the representation of Latinas is strikingly low at all levels of office. Past research offers unclear conclusions as to whether Latina political candidates face a layered set of hurdles associated with their multiple identities at the intersection of their gender and their ethnicity (Bejarano, 2013; Cargile, 2016). This proposed research attempts to bridge this gap in the literature and contributes to work on candidate behavior and campaign communication by investigating the types of campaign messages Latinas employ on the campaign trail. To this end, this project combines an analysis of campaign advertising data from the Wesleyan Media Project and an original survey-based experiment to tackle Latinas’ unique positionality in U.S. politics. More specifically, this project builds upon existing intersectionality literature to investigate how Latina candidates use emotional appeals in their campaign messages in order to sway voters’ attitudes and whether these appeals are advantageous in getting them elected. The results from this project are consequential because they offer insights into the messaging strategies that Latina candidates can employ to overcome the potential intersectional biases they face in an increasingly complex political landscape. Given the changing demographics of elected politicians, this project enhances the demand for a broader understanding of multidimensional models of strategic political communication to increase Latinas’ political power and to improve the descriptive and substantive representation of minority groups in U.S. politics. Funds from the CAWP grant will support the data acquisition stage as well as the data collection stage for this project.


The Face of a Movement: Colorism and Racism in the Evaluation of Black Women Leaders

Andrene Wright, Northwestern University

Michelle Bueno Vásquez, Northwestern University

Abstract: Stereotypes of Black women can produce deleterious effects on Black women’s leadership appraisals and perceived governing capabilities (Harris-Perry, 2011; Hicks, 2017).  Lemi and Brown found that phenotype plays a vital role in the evaluation of Black women candidates, as Black women with a lighter skin tone and more relaxed hair texture tend to garner significantly more support than those with a darker skin tone and more textured hair (2021). Notwithstanding these limitations, Black women have exhibited adept leadership in the Capitol as well as in activism: #BLM and #MeToo, two of the largest social movements in contemporary politics, were founded by Black women. In the age of social media, it is timely and imperative to take the findings on minority candidate evaluation in the formal political sphere (Weaver, 2009; Philpot and Walton Jr, 2007) and test their validity within the informal political sphere. As social movements surpass formal political institutions in representing diverse ideological and demographic perspectives (Cohen 2005, McAdams, 1982), this paper expands the literature of Black women political leaders to understand the spatial differences between formal and informal politics and their potential, and perhaps unexpected, similarities. With a mixed-method research design encompassing a survey experiment and follow-up interviews, we aim to answer the question: “How do skin tone and hair variation affect the perceived capabilities of Black women leading social movements like BlackLivesMatter and #MeToo?” As social movements become increasingly relevant avenues for political participation, it is all the more crucial to examine the identity politics behind these movements’ leadership. We hope this project will shed light on the implications of a population that has been politically instrumental yet often invisible in academic research.   



Deepening Democratic Engagement in Select Battleground States: Moving Women of Color from Reliable Voters to Candidates

Christina Bejarano Ph.D., Texas Woman’s University

Wendy Smooth, Ph.D., The Ohio State University

Abstract: Following recent presidential elections, pundits and scholars alike pointed to these elections as evidence of a changing American electorate. The electorate has become more diverse than ever in the country’s history. In particular, the electoral power of women,

African Americans, Latinos, and Asian Americans showed the political parties that these groups are considerable forces in American politics. These significant shifts in the electorate offer opportunities to engage new thinking about the potential of these groups to not only decide elections, but to sustain their civic engagement far beyond simply voting. Beyond their political power in determining election outcomes, the new American electorate has the potential to reshape political representation in elected bodies by becoming candidates themselves, thereby changing the descriptive representation of governing bodies, which arguably changes policy outcomes in more representative ways. Women of color are at the center of these changes, and this project focuses on how they are organizing simultaneously to protect access to the vote for communities of color and increase the numbers of women of color candidates running for office. We explore the mechanisms and organizational structures women of color are formulating to execute these related tasks that deepen democratic engagement, particularly for communities of color. Focusing on select battleground states, we ask: What types of mobilizations, civic groups, training initiatives, and organizations are assuming this role in the democratic process to extend democratic inclusion for women of color? How are women of color networks, civic organizations, and nonprofits at the subnational level engaged in this work?


Gender, Race, Partisanship and the Dynamics of Candidate Likability

Tessa Ditonto, Ph.D., Durham University

David Andersen, Ph.D., Durham University

Abstract: What does it mean for a political candidate to be ‘likable?’ Most models of vote choice include some element of likability, polls often include questions about how likable a candidate is, and much media attention during a campaign is devoted to the likability (or lack thereof) of the individuals in the race. Yet, as a concept, likability is difficult to define and little political science literature has systematically considered the factors that contribute to or detract from perceptions of likability. What is clear is that candidate gender, race, and partisanship all play an important role in determining perceptions of candidate likability, often to the detriment of women — and especially women of color. While women’s political representation has increased substantially, enormous disparities still persist. Perceptions of candidate likability influenced by stereotypes and biases based in gender, race, and partisanship may be a key factor in explaining these disparities.

We propose a series of studies which examine the relationship between gender, race, partisanship, and likability for political candidates, culminating in a book-length manuscript. We will seek to answer the following questions: 1. What makes a candidate “likable” or not and does this differ by candidate gender?; 2. How do the content and consequences of likability evaluations vary for women based on race, ethnicity, and/or political party?; 3. To what extent do evaluations of likability predict global evaluations of candidates and vote choice?; 4. Which voter characteristics interact with candidate attributes to influence likability judgments?; and 5. How can/do women candidates navigate the issue of likability in order to increase their electability? In order to answer these questions, we will employ a multi-method approach including interviews of campaign professionals, experiments isolating causal effects, and a survey of voters in order to better understand how likability functions in the “real world.”


Too Feminine to Lead? Identifying Voter Discrimination and Violence Against AAPI Women Candidates

Jeong Hyun Kim, Ph.D., Louisiana State University

Abstract: Despite their increasing presence in the electorate, Asian American and Pacific Islander women remain severely underrepresented in political offices. This research seeks to explain the stark underrepresentation of AAPI women in elected office by examining patterns of voter discrimination against AAPI women candidates. The aims of this project are two-fold. First, this research examines the presence of voters' gendered racial stereotypes against AAPI women and how it might negatively affect these candidates' electoral success. Being both women and Asian might make AAPI women appear even more feminine than women from other racial and ethnic groups, and thus, voters might consider them less suitable for political leadership positions. Second, this research investigates the extent of sexual harassment targeting AAPI women candidates, focusing on how the surging anti-Asian racism during the COVID-19 pandemic might have exacerbated online violence against AAPI women in politics. Due to their high public visibility, women in politics worldwide are increasingly experiencing sexual assaults both in offline and online spaces. Women of color in politics, in particular, face more intense assaults and abuse. Using survey experiments and social media analysis, this research will investigate the scope of voter discrimination against AAPI women candidates. The findings of this research will make a vital contribution to our understanding of intersectional barriers to women's access to political office. This research will also have significant implications for policymakers and practitioners by urging them to introduce more regulatory measures against vicious online attacks that disproportionately target women of color.


Masculinity, Intersectionality, and Presidential Politics

Jennifer Lucas, Ph.D., Saint Anselm College

Heather Silber Mohamed, Ph.D., Clark University

 Abstract: Masculinity is fundamental to the U.S. presidency, the “highest, hardest glass ceiling” (Clinton 2008). Gender-office incongruency has historically made it difficult for feminine and female candidates to win (Conroy 2015, Lawrence and Rose 2009). With the appearance of more potential viable female candidates, we can now test whether and how masculinity (and femininity) influence candidate evaluations in real-world scenarios. Through an original survey of first-in-the-nation Republican presidential primary voters in New Hampshire, we examine the extent to which masculinity shapes how these voters evaluate potential nominees, including white women and women of color. We additionally analyze the ways in which assumptions about the preeminence of masculine traits shapes perceptions of electability and viability, particularly in the early stages of the primary when voters know less about candidates and are more heavily reliant on information shortcuts such as race/ethnicity and gender.

Regardless of how the 2024 field of candidates unfolds, this study will contribute in several ways to our understanding of masculinity and presidential politics. First, we analyze potential presidential candidates to show how early primary voters evaluate candidates’ perceived quality, competency, and electability. In particular, we will examine how ideas about the presidency shape gendered assumptions about actual potential candidates, potentially disadvantaging certain candidates before any votes are cast. Second, we experimentally test how ethnicity and gender, particularly for Asian-American women, might shape presidential candidate evaluations. Third, we will analyze gender gaps in Republican voters’ attitudes about women candidates as well as former President Trump. Overall, our project will bring new evidence to bear not just on whether the presidency is masculinized, but how it is masculinized, with important practical implications for men and women candidates alike.


Masculine and Feminine Attributes: Understanding America’s Changing Conceptualization of Candidates and Parties

Heather L. Ondercin, Ph.D., Appalachian State University

Erin C. Cassese, Ph.D., University of Delaware

Abstract: In the proposed project, we seek funding to leverage an existing data collection effort by developing and implementing a mixed-method approach to analyzing the oft-neglected open-ended candidate and party evaluation items on the 2016 and 2020 American National Election Studies (ANES). This coding project will allow us to pursue two lines of inquiry. First, the data can be utilized to investigate the role of gender in American elections by focusing on the link between voters’ evaluations of the major party presidential candidates and gendered conceptualizations of the political parties. Our primary research questions in this area include: Do voters perceive candidates through an integrated gender-partisan lens? How do voters evaluate and respond to perceptions of “fit” between party and candidate in this regard? Is there a gender dimension to negative partisanship, such that negativity toward one’s political opponents is commonly expressed in terms of gendered traits? By breaking new ground on gendered dimensions of party fit and negative partisanship, our proposed work addresses Priority Two: Expanding Research Focus. Our second line of inquiry utilizes a stand-alone analysis of the open-ended text data from 2020 to address Priority Three: Meeting the Moment. We explore public opinion toward pandemic response and the Black Lives Matter movement from an intersectional framework. Our research question asks: How did intersectional identities, and the sense of linked fate accompanying them, shape issue attitudes, candidate evaluations, and mobilization in 2020? We combine mentions of these issues from our open-ended text analysis with responses to close-ended questions in our analysis. This work is poised to offer insights into how public health issues and systemic racism shaped mobilization and voter decision making in 2020 across race and gender groups in the electorate and how these factors might continue to play a role in future American elections.


Violence Against Asian American Women in Politics (VA3WIP): Consequences for Political Candidacies, Ambition, and Representation

Paru Radha Shah, Ph.D., University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee

Sameena Mustafa

 Abstract: In the Violence Against Asian American Women in Politics (VA3WIP) project, we examine how the rising prominence of Asian American women as candidates and elected officials intersects with the rise of violence and threats of violence against them. We propose a mixed methods approach that includes a larger survey of all Asian American elected officials coupled with in-depth interviews. This project will extend the nascent theories of violence against women in politics to the unique intersections of gender and race for Asian American women and detail how violence influences their candidacies, political ambition, and representation.


When You See Me, Do You Hear Me? The Persuasive Power of Black Women

Tarah Williams, Ph.D., Allegheny College

Kylee Britzman, Ph.D., Lewis-Clark State College

Paul Testa, Ph.D., Brown University

Abstract: Movements like #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter use social media to share individual experiences and personal pleas to galvanize others to take action for social change. The success of these messages depends upon the reach and persuasiveness of their messengers. Due to existing power disparities, race, gender, and the intersection of race and gender, can affect the reach and persuasiveness of messages. Black women may be uniquely trusted messengers for some groups, but they may also have more difficulty getting other groups to listen or be persuaded. If segments of the public are more likely or less likely to hear and respond to calls for reform depending on when they are made by a Black woman compared to a white person or Black man, this creates both challenges and opportunities for sustaining coalitions for change. Differential responses could also lead to some interests being overlooked by movements and the public. Our research will use a choice-based survey experimental design to assess whether people listen to and are convinced by social movement messages from Black women as compared to white women, Black men, and white men. This project has implications for social movement strategy but also broader implications for how we communicate with one another and how we convey who has authority.


Daniel De Simone:; 760.703.0948