Academic journal article Political Research Quarterly

Media Coverage of Minority Congresswomen and Voter Evaluations: Evidence from an Online Experimental Study

Academic journal article Political Research Quarterly

Media Coverage of Minority Congresswomen and Voter Evaluations: Evidence from an Online Experimental Study

Article excerpt

Abstract

Scholars of gender and race politics have long drawn links between the media's less than favorable treatment of women and minorities, and these candidates' struggles to curry favor with voters. However, few have examined minority women's coverage. This multimethodological study examines the nature and implications of the media's treatment of Anglo, Latina, and African American congresswomen. The results indicate significant differences in the content of these women's media coverage and its influence on voters' attitudes. The implications of these findings for Anglo and minority women campaigning for and holding elective office are discussed.

Keywords

race, gender, political communication, U.S. Congress

The presence of women in elective office, particularly in the U.S. House of Representatives, has grown significantly in recent decades, with the number of female representatives more than quadrupling in the past thirty years (Center for Women and Politics, Women in Elective Office 2010). While all women are descriptively underrepresented in Congress, minority congresswomen, who undoubtedly face a unique set of barriers in seeking and holding elective office, remain a fairly small proportion of this legislative body. For example, while Anglo women make up 12 percent of the House of Representatives and 17 percent of the Senate, African American congresswomen are less than 3 percent of the House, Latinas are approximately 1 percent of all U.S. Representatives, and there are no minority women serving in the U.S. Senate (Center for Women and Politics, Women of Color in Elective Office 2010). Women of color have made significant strides in winning elective office in recent years (Bedolla, Tate, and Wong 2005; Fraga et al. 2003; Montoya, Hardy-Fanta, and Garcia 2000); however, their relatively small numbers at the national level limit their representation in the policy-making process.1 In moving toward a greater explanation for the limited numbers of minority women serving in Congress, the factors shaping voter support for these women must be examined. To that end, this paper considers the role of the mass media in shaping voter support for minority congresswomen.

The manner in which the news media covers congresswomen (particularly women of color) may impact their ability to build support among voters and win reelection. Generally, American voters rely heavily on the news media for information about their elected officials (Graber 2010). In a nation of more than 300 million, elected officials and candidates are often not able to directly communicate with voters, relying instead on the news media to inform voters of their issue positions and build public support. Scholars of gender and race politics have long drawn links between the media's treatment of women and minorities, and these candidates' struggles to curry favor with voters (Kahn 1996; Niven and Zilber 2001; Smith 1997; Terkildsen and Damore 1999). While media coverage of female candidates and public officials (compared with male candidates and officials) has received significant attention in the field of gender politics, little scholarly research has been devoted to identifying the variation within this population, largely ignoring the media's treatment of minority women who seek and hold elective office.

Scholarly research (Fox 2000; Herrnson, Lay, and Stokes 2003; Smith 1997) and recent elections suggest that women have become more successful in their efforts to attract positive media attention, appeal to voters, and, most importantly, win elective office, yet much of our information about the fate of women campaigning for and holding elective office is based on studies of Anglos, lim- iting our knowledge of the challenges faced by minority women in this regard. Nevertheless, identifying variation in the shape and electoral impact of minority women's media coverage is critical to understanding the challenges faced by all women in public office. …

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