How Minority Candidates’ Intersectional Identities Affect Their Use of Race and Gender Issue Ownership Campaign Strategies

May 4, 2020   /  

Student: Emma Cotter
Major: Political Science
Minor: History
Advisors: Dr. Angie Bos, Dr. Àlvaro Corral

This thesis explores how a candidate’s intersectional identity affects their use of gender and race issue ownership techniques in their political campaigns. Prior research has studied the campaign strategies of (white) female candidates and black (male) candidates, but has not studied the effects of possessing multiple minority identities on the campaign strategies. Scholars have found that female candidates benefit from embracing gender issue ownership in their campaigns, while black candidates benefit from rejecting race issue ownership in their campaigns. I theorize that black female candidates’ intersectional identities preclude them from highlighting part of their identity while downplaying another. Using a content analysis method, I analyze the 2018 campaign websites of black female, black male, and white female candidates running for the U.S. House of Representatives. Limited by a small sample size, I do not find statistically significant evidence to support my hypotheses. However, I do find evidence that points to a variety of other important implications that support my hypothesis, for the ways that we understand the theory of deracialization, and for the importance of continuing to employ intersectional frameworks in political science.

Emma will be online to field comments on May 8:
2-4pm EDT (PST 11am-1pm, Africa/Europe: evening)

57 thoughts on “How Minority Candidates’ Intersectional Identities Affect Their Use of Race and Gender Issue Ownership Campaign Strategies”

  1. Congratulations on your I.S., it is such a huge accomplishment. Kudos for shining a light on Intersectionality and how it effects political campaigns. There is much work to do on understanding just how people who live at the intersections navigate the systemic discrimination and inequality in American society. I had not considered that this would impact elections and campaigns but am not surprised it does. I find Dr. Kimberle Crenshaw’s work especially powerful and enlightening, did you use her as a resource?

    1. Thank you so much for taking the time to watch my presentation, I’m glad that you found it interesting. I absolutely looked at Dr. Crenshaw’s work (in particular, “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex”), and in fact, I was able to center much of my literature review section that focused on intersectionality around her foundational work on intersectionality!

  2. Emma,

    I’m so pleased to see how this project has evolved. Your mixed-method design was really innovative, and I love how you were able to tease out some interesting results and implications from this.

    What was the most surprising thing that you found while doing your content analysis of the campaign websites?

    1. Hi Dr. Krain,

      Thank you! I believe that what I found most surprising through my content analysis was the disparate levels of information on different candidate’s websites. While some candidates (such as Ayanna Pressley and Ilhan Omar) had really in-depth descriptions of their backgrounds and positions on issues, other candidates (such as Emanuel Cleaver II and Bobby Scott) had far less information provided about their stances on each issue. I believe that this likely supports the findings of previous scholars that female candidates often have to prove that they are overqualified for office, therefore causing them to highlight more of their past experiences and policy positions to give them equal fooding alongside male candidates.

      1. Wow! I think you are right about that. I imagine that it would be interesting to see how the candidates who employed the strategies that you are looking at fared in the elections, too (another research question, of course!).

      2. I think that applies to all women in positions of some power. We are constantly proving our abilities whereas men’s are taken for granted.

  3. Great job Emma! Your I.S. is super interesting and very relevant. I look forward to see what you do in the future.

    1. Thank you Emily, same to you! I’m excited to see how you continue your research in grad school!

  4. This is a very interesting IS and I am glad that I have been able to interact with it at various points throughout the process! This research is very important and I am glad that you worked on it. Wishing you all the best in the future.

  5. Emma- First of all- congrats on completing your I.S. ! Your topic was very interesting- and your graphics helped tremendously in understanding your findings. How did you decide to select this topic? There is still much to learn in this area.

    1. Thank you for asking! For me, this topic arose out of my previous coursework, particularly in the Africana Studies department. When I began the Junior IS process, and thought back through the different topics that I had previously been exposed to (and which could be political), I realized that in four of my previous Africana courses we had discussed deracialization, particularly in regard to Barack Obama’s presidential runs. Further, in some of my political science coursework, we had learned about how female candidates could benefit from embracing and highlighting their female identity when running for office. Therefore, I was interested in how a female candidate of color might reconcile these two competing strategies, and seeing if she would choose to highlight her gender while simultaneously downplaying her connection to her race, as it seemed to me only addressing one area of her identity would be particularly difficult, and possibly even impossible.

  6. Excellent work, Emma! This looks like a great project that nicely combines important research questions and a mixed-method research design. Way to go!

    1. Thank you very much, Prof. Lantis! I really enjoyed having this opportunity to combine so many of the different things that I’ve learned from the Political Science department!

  7. Congratulations, Emma! This is a wonderful project, and you do a great job communicating your complex findings. Your findings about “deracialization theory” are especially fascinating, and make me wonder how this might be applied to Latinx candidates (regardless of race).

    1. Thank you Prof. Holt!

      I’ve actually thought a lot about this question, especially because I initially intended to expand my study to also look at Latinx candidates–however, as different issues are racialized for different candidates (i.e. bilingual education is radicalized for Latinx candidates, but not for black candidates), I knew that this expansion would be beyond my scope. Furthermore, the literature on candidate stereotypes necessary to complete this I.S., using the methodology that I chose to use, does not really exist yet for other racial minority candidates.

      In terms of my findings related to the theory of deracialization, I would theorize that much of it may be generalizable to Latinx candidates. Firstly, when deracialization emerged as a concept in the 1980s following “Black Tuesday,” it was developed specifically in relation to black candidates, but has since been expanded, largely unchanged, to other minority groups, such as Latinx candidates (see Juenke and Sampaio 2010) and Asian candidates (see Collet 2008). Therefore, I would guess that just as the theory was generalizable, so would be many of these implications.

  8. Well done. I enjoyed listening to your presentation. If you were an advisor on a campaign for a white female candidate or a black female candidate, what advice would you give them?

    1. Thank you Michelle!

      Although I’ll tread lightly on this question, as my thesis explored much more of what techniques candidates employed, rather than what techniques were successful, I do have some advice that I would give both black and white female candidates.

      Firstly, I would emphasize the importance of having a user-friendly website, that is both easy to navigate, and which contains articulate information about your policy positions. Some candidates had websites that were particularly difficult to navigate, or which provided very little information/plans beyond simply asserting that an issue was important. I found that I most strongly supported candidates whose websites were clear and easy to use, and when I could most clearly understand their issue positions. Further, as women often have to emphasize their over-qualification for office, I believe that it is important to have more in-depth explanations of position issues.

      Secondly, I would also remark that while these two theories, which advise candidates to emphasize their competence in issues that are stereotypically feminine, and to avoid discussing issues that are stereotypically racialized for black candidates, have been shown to be effective, that this is not the only way to run a successful campaign. Specifically, we can see that some candidates, such as Ayanna Pressley, won their elections while running racialized and gendered campaigns, meaning that there is no one strategy that is universally successful, and that the strategy should be chosen based on the candidate’s specific district, and the policies which the candidate cares about and wishes to promote.

  9. Emma,

    Thanks for sharing your work. A few quick questions: (1) How did you define “intersectional identity”?, (2) Did you ever consider also looking at Districts that were less than 50% black so you could do further comparisons?, and (3) Did the candidates considered in your sample size end up being concentrated in specific states and/or regions of the US?

    Congrats on everything! Be well, safe, and healthy.
    – Alex Jue ’10

    1. Hi Alex, thank you for your comment! In terms of how I defined “intersectional identity,” I use the term to define how two identities, in this case race and gender, interact to form a mutually constitutive minority identity that is distinct from those who identify with only one minority identities. Secondly, I only looked at districts that were less than 51 percent black, as previous literature on deracialization has stressed that deracialization is only necessary in districts where the black candidate is in the racial minority, and therefore must build a multiracial coalition in order to be elected. Therefore, I chose not to look at minority black districts, as previous literature has found that candidates in these districts do not need to deracialize to find electoral success, which is largely in line with my finding the candidates embraced race issue ownership at higher levels when they were campaigning in districts with larger black populations. Finally, I find your third question to be particularly interesting, as I hadn’t thought about that before! Looking back at my results, I would say that while candidates who qualified for the sample were not concentrated in specific regions, there were ten candidates who qualified from Texas, which is significantly higher than any other state!

  10. This is really interesting Emma, and I love that both of our Independent Studies can be related back to our FYS with Dr. Bos! Your research is so necessary and important, and I thought you explained it well.
    Great work.

  11. Emma: You did a fantastic job adapting your IS to present in the virtual format – well done! I’ve told you many times, but yours is an innovative, important study that combines gender and race literatures that rarely speak to one another. You really challenged yourself to test your novel theory collect and code websites and to do a quantitative analysis. Your work is at the cutting edge of political campaign research – and importantly underscores the importance of stronger integration of theories of intersectionality, deracialization, and stereotypes in this research. Aside from this substantive praise, let me also say that I feel so privileged to have worked with you for four years, since our FYS class! I am glad that your interest in gender equity at that time has persisted since and led to our being able to work together on IS. So proud of your work, Emma, and I look forward to seeing what your bright future holds! Sending you all my best, Prof. Bos

    1. Thank you, Prof. Bos!

      I really enjoyed working with you, not only this year, but also throughout my time at Wooster, beginning in FYS. I can honestly say that not only would I not have been able to complete this project without your constant guidance, but also that I would never have come to this topic in general were it not for what I learned from you my first semester on campus in FYS. Thank you for all your help, not only on this project, but for helping me to develop this research interest over the past four years–I really enjoyed working with you!

      Best, Emma

  12. Emma,
    Nice job of adding some clarity to a fascinating and complex question. Your presentation helped me sort through your findings. I hope others build on your work!

  13. Congratulations on this huge accomplishment of completing your independent study! Your project delves into such an important and relevant topic. Given that the research process contains so many steps and takes place over an extended period of time, what was your favorite step of the process and why? Also, what advice would you give to rising seniors who are about to embark of the journey of IS next year? Again, congratulations on all of your hard work!

    1. Thank you so much Leigh! My favorite part was definitely after coding, getting to see a)getting to learn more about different candidates, who I otherwise would not have known as much about as they live in very different regions of the country, b) finally getting all of my results (many of which were slightly unexpected) come through as I conducted the statistical analysis, and c) seeing how quickly all of the last few pieces (results, conclusion, etc) come together after the heavy leg work has been done–it felt like I was far from the end and the next thing I knew I was right there! For those about to embark on the journey of IS next year, my main pieces of advice would be to find a topic that you’re really passionate about and interested in, so that it doesn’t necessarily feel like a task to get to work on your project, and so that it’s something you look forward to working on every day!

  14. Emma,
    Great work! You did amazing explaining your thesis. I understood more than I realize I did because of how you explained it. I can’t wait for more of your work in the future.

  15. Hi Emma!

    I love your research question. It’s so amazing to see your hard work put all together after hearing about it over this past year. I’m so proud of you and congratulations! You are going to do such great things in the future and I can’t wait to see it. 🙂

    1. Thanks Zo, that means so much to me! I can’t wait to see all the incredible things you accomplish in the future either!!

  16. Girl yes! Fill that gap in the literature! In an increasingly diverse America, research like this helps us reflect on who is taking ownership over these topics…and….NOT a SINGLE white female in the sample embraced race issue ownership? WACK!
    Your work is inspiring, as is your work ethnic. As are you. Beautiful, incredible, amazing, and overall, iconic. I’m so grateful to have met you, and so proud to know your IS came out this great. Fantastic job Emma.

    1. Thanks Marcel!

      I agree, it is wack! Hopefully, and with active work, this we can shift that so that eventually ALL candidates will be embracing race issue ownership in their campaigns! I’m going to really miss working with you next year, and I sincerely cannot wait to hear about all of the incredible things you accomplish with your IS and beyond!!

  17. Congrats Emma! What an interesting and important project! Your findings on deracialization are fascinating. Like Prof. Holt I think this project could have interesting implications for other minority candidates in the US. I’d love to see how your findings apply to other politically relevant identities, such as candidate sexuality.

    1. Thanks Abby!

      I very much agree with you, and I think that that is certainly something that political scientists should look further into–perhaps in the future another student will be able to expand this study type of study to look at LGBTQ+ candidates! When they do, I’d be very interested to know what they find!

  18. Congratulations, Emma! It was so great to see the result of all your hard work.
    You mention how having a larger sample would make for more statistically significant results. How would you propose to expand your sample size? Would you remove limiting factors? Look at candidates from different years using the same factors? And do you think there are any other ways that sample size expansion would affect your results?

    1. Hi Kathleen!

      Thank you so much for watching my presentation! Initially, I was planning on also analyzing the candidates from 2014 and 2016 who fit my sample restrictions–however this only would add less than 15 candidates all together to my sample, most of which would be white women (as black female candidates ran in much lower numbers these years websites in these years either did not have black male counterparts to be matched with, or their websites were not functionally recorded by the database I used). However, each of my limiting factors was very important to be able to accurately measure deracialization.

      Therefore, I think that the best way to increase the sample size is to invest in minority candidates, and organizations that promote minority female candidates to run for office–while there isn’t really enough data available as of now to significantly expand my sample size, hopefully there will be more in the future. 42 percent more women of color ran for the US House in 2018 than had run in 2016. If we are able to continue to support these candidates and the organizations that support them, then we will eventually have larger sample sizes!

      Finally, expanding my sample size would likely have yielded more statistically significant results all around. Specifically, very few black men ran in non-majority-minority districts in 2018, meaning that I had a very low sample size of black men; this caused many of my comparisons between black male candidates and other groups to not be statistically significant. Furthermore, a larger sample size would likely have allowed me to conduct further multivariate regressions to specifically explore relationships between different minority groups when controlling for the size of a district’s black population, and incumbency status.

  19. Congratulations, Emma! This is a wonderful project. I especially appreciated your discussions of the importance of developing more intersectional literature in political science and the implications of issue ownership on political representation, especially given our current political context.

  20. Great presentation and timely given the upcoming election cycle. Found your use of the coding mechanism fascinating. Congratulations and great job!

  21. Great work Emma, I loved learning about your coding mechanism in class last semester. Congrats!

  22. Hi Emma–I really enjoyed learning about your work on this important issue! I’m wondering (in addition to expanding your work to additional candidate groups) whether there were other questions you discovered along the way that you wished you had been able to ask or code for? Thanks, and congratulations!

    1. Thank you so much for your question, Prof. Eager!

      Aside from expanding this work to additional candidate groups, I also wish (either with more time or in additional projects) that I would have been able to further explore how issues could be framed to show issue ownership. For example, when we look at Ayanna Pressley (D, MA-7), we see that she frames all of her issues in terms of an ‘Equity Agenda.’ Through the Equity Agenda, she highlights racial inequities throughout her district, and proposes policies in ways that (both explicitly and implicitly) attempt to address these issues. With how I coded, I was not able to account for this sort of framing, wherein stereotypically non-racial issues (or issues for which black candidates are stereotypically less competent) such as tax policy, might become racialized through the candidate’s overarching framing of the issue. While I could capture this framing in my coding mechanism when she was explicit about an issues connection to race, I couldn’t capture implicit connection. Therefore, I would be interested in conducting an additional study looking at how framing can affect issue ownership in a candidate’s campaign!

  23. Thank you, Emma, for your interesting presentation! I find intersectionality a highly interesting topic that is not discussed enough. I spent time in grad school studying the implications of intersectionality on college age students, but I never thought to think about applying this to analyzing political campaigns.

    1. Thank you, Kristin! I agree with you, intersectionality is not discussed nearly enough, and it should become a more widely discussed concepts, both within and outside of academia!

  24. Great job Emma! It’s clear that you really know your stuff. I’m impressed by the amount of effort you put into this. I’ve a question about how you weighted candidates and issues. At some point wasn’t there some subjectivity in making those decisions? This is not a criticism just a thought. Probably at some point there has to be some subjectivity. Well done! Impressive!

    1. Hi Lola,

      Thanks for watching! There was some subjectivity in these decisions insofar as a computer program did not exist that could count mentions. However, while I don’t go in to it here, my coding mechanism was created in such a way as to be as objective as humanly possible. Weighting was specified before I began looking at websites (candidates received an additional half point for issues if they were mentioned in the home page banner, or if they were one of the first three issues mentioned on the ‘issues’ page; candidates also received an additional half point for every three sentences per page that explicitly referred to an issue)–in this way, it was not very subjective, especially as the issues that I looked for were pulled directly from past political science literature on voter’s stereotypes of candidates!

  25. Emma, you did such a great job! Very interesting and insightful! I too will have an altered and enlightened perspective of candidates and their platforms going forward. Out of curiosity, how would you apply these findings? Best of luck to you!

    1. Hi Julie!

      Thank you so much for taking the time to watch and engage with my presentation! One of the main ways that I apply these findings is in helping to further our understanding of substantive representation. The finding that candidates in non-majority black districts, regardless of race, tend to deracialize–and therefore not talk about issues that may directly affect minority communities–points to the idea that black voters may not be substantively represented by those who run in their districts, even when their elected officials are also people of color. Therefore, we need to work to change the culture of these districts to allow candidates of color to be able to discuss issues that specifically pertain to people of color in their campaigns without fear of losing the support of white voters.

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