Recent Articles

Craig Volden, Alan Wiseman, and Dana Wittmer. 2013. “When Are Women More Effective Lawmakers Than Men?”American Journal of Political Science 57(2): 326-341.

Please see the New York Times story that references this article

Please see the New York Magazine story that references this article

Previous scholarship has demonstrated that female lawmakers differ from their male counterparts by exerting higher effort, by being more policy focused, and by engaging more fully in consensus-building activities. We argue that these behavioral differences do not serve women equally well in all institutional settings. Contentious and partisan activities of male lawmakers may help them outperform women when in a polarized majority party. However, in the minority party, while men may choose to obstruct and delay, women continue to work hard, focus on policy goals, and build coalitions. We find strong evidence that minority party women in the U.S. House of Representatives are better able to keep their sponsored bills alive through later stages of the legislative process than are minority party men, across the 93rd-110th Congresses (1973-2008). The opposite is true for majority party women, however, who counterbalance this lack of later success by introducing a greater amount of legislation. Moreover, while the legislative style of minority party women has served them well consistently across the past four decades, majority party women have become less effective as Congress has become more polarized.

Wittmer, Dana, and Vanessa Bouche. 2013. “The Limits of Gendered Leadership: The Public Policy Implications of Female Leadership on Women’s Issues.” Politics & Gender 9(3): 245-275.

Although we know that female representatives are more likely to sponsor women’s issue bills, it is unclear whether and how this type of gendered leadership influences the substance of legislation passed, and specifically, how much states are willing to invest in these issues. We seek to address this question by exploring the potential policy ramifications of issue gendering based on female leadership of women’s issues. We choose as our test case a contemporary public policy issue that has become gendered and in which states can choose to invest abundantly or not at all: the issue of human trafficking.  Based on an analysis of human trafficking legislation in every state from 2003 to 2008, we designed a unique dataset that determines how much a state has invested in the issue. This quantitative approach, coupled with qualitative data obtained through a myriad of interviews, yields findings that tentatively suggest states are most likely to invest in women’s issue areas when both female and male legislators take significant leadership roles. These results complement, and add to, the body of scholarship concerning the link between descriptive and substantive representation.

Manuscripts Under Review/ In Preparation

Women’s Issues and Their Fates in Congress (with Craig Volden and Alan Wiseman)

Significant scholarship indicates that female legislators focus their attention on “women’s issues” to a greater extent than do male lawmakers.  Yet, women’s issues have thus far been largely selected by scholars ex ante, often without comparison to other issues.  We address the possible selection bias and the nature of women’s issues themselves by defining women’s issues in terms of those sponsored at a greater rate by women in Congress over a thirty-year period.  This analysis reveals that most (but not all) of the classically considered women’s issues are indeed raised at an enhanced rate by congresswomen.  We then track the fate of those issues, demonstrating that the proposals of women (and their specific proposals on women’s issues) achieve far less success than do those of men.  We link the bias against women’s issues to the committee process, and suggest future pathways through which women’s issues may gain more attention and legislative success in the future.

Gendered Diffusion on Gendered Issues: The Case of Human Trafficking (with Vanessa Bouche)

Since 2003, almost all states in the U.S. have passed some type of legislation on human trafficking, but these state laws vary significantly in terms of substance and scope. States have legislated on none, all, or some combination of the following categories: criminalization, state investment, and civil remedies. State laws that are most comprehensive are inclusive of some aspect of all three of these legislative options. This study aims to identify those factors that impact the comprehensiveness of state human trafficking legislation. To do so we first propose independent effects of policy diffusion and the percentage of females in a state legislature. Building on this framework, we then suggest a process of gendered diffusion, whereby female state legislators represent a unique diffusion network for “women’s interest” issues both within their own legislature, as well as across state networks. Taken together, this paper suggests that, for certain types of new issues areas, the demographic composition of state legislative chambers and the policy diffusion process are conditional on one another.

A Theory of Institutional Representation: The Link Between Political Engagement and Gendered Institutions

This project asks why women remain less politically engaged than their male counterparts, despite important strides taken towards gender equity in politics, the workplace, and the home. Although one prominent answer to this puzzle has been that women are underrepresented in politics, the research thus far has failed to show consistent differences between women who are represented by women (termed dyadic descriptive representation) and women who are not. I propose that these inconsistent results are borne out of an underdeveloped model of gender and representation. It may be the case that women are not responding as we would predict because conceptualizing engagement as a micro process overlooks the larger social and political factors at work. Put simply, I argue that the micro process of dyadic descriptive representation does little to alter macro level perceptions among female constituents about our institutions of government as gendered and discriminatory. And I propose that it is these macro perceptions that create the different ‘tastes’ that have been said to cause the gender gap in engagement (Verba et al. 1997). Specifically, this dissertation suggests that there are three macro-level factors that underlie public perceptions of Congress as an unfairly gendered institution: the overall dearth of women in politics, discrimination within the policy process, and policy outputs that favor masculine issues. Combined, these three factors form the foundation for this theory of institutional representation.

I test this theory using an original, nationally representative survey of 1,000 respondents. The first component of this survey is a broad range of questions about political engagement, unfair practices within the policy process, and the substantive nature of Congressional policy outputs. These survey questions not only confirm that women think about Congress as gendered and discriminatory, but they also shed light on the gender gap in engagement that has remained stagnant, and unexplainable, for so long. The second component of this survey is an embedded experiment designed to test what impact the underrepresentation of women in politics has on perceptions of political legitimacy and levels of political engagement. I find strong evidence to suggest that a dyadic match between constituent and representative is largely inconsequential without a simultaneous increase in collective representation within Congress as a whole. Combined, these results point to the importance of conceptualizing gender and representation through a macro lens.

Value Recruitment (with Thomas Nelson and Dustin Carnahan)

This paper explores how policy entrepreneurs use value recruitment to influence public opinion. In the debate over teaching alternatives to evolution, promoters of Intelligent Design (ID) have appealed to values such as fairness and free speech to make their case for inclusion in the public schools. Those who resist these movements attempt to limit the application of such values, while asserting the preeminence of science. In order to examine the effectiveness of these messages, we conducted a field experiment in an undergraduate biology class that examined the effect of a class exercise designed to reinforce the norm of scientific naturalism. We also conducted a laboratory experiment in which participants were either presented with messages that evoked free speech, fairness, and educational values in defense of ID, or messages that delegitimized these values by drawing an analogy between ID and unsubstantiated theories like astrology.

Statewide Variation in Battering Defenses (with Irfan Nooruddin and Allyson Shortle)

Previous research has demonstrated that statewide variation in attention to domestic violence concerns has much to do with the strength of a state’s women’s movement. We expand this framework by investigating how the strength of the women’s movements within a state impacts whether or not that state will adopt legislation pertaining to battered women’s syndrome in cases involving women who kill their abusive partners. However, unlike previous research, we argue that it is the combination of women’s movement strength with political opportunity that induces the passage of women friendly legislation. Specifically, we investigate how the ideology of the state government and the number of women in the state legislature interact with the strength of the women’s movement within that state. Our results indicate the interaction of women’s movement strength and political opportunity is necessary for understanding the passage of legislation pertaining to battered women’s syndrome; women’s movements have greater success when a state legislature is more liberal.