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Melody Crowder-Meyer



Department of Political Science

The University of the South


Book Manuscript


In my manuscript, Party Strength and Political Equality: How Local Parties Shape American Women’s Political Representation, I expand upon my dissertation research to examine how women’s political representation is shaped by the structure and activity of county party organizations and the behavior and beliefs of party actors. Contrary to many findings in the existing literature, I show that political parties fundamentally affect who runs for and holds political office. I draw upon the significant variation between local parties to demonstrate that party strength can either greatly enhance or significantly inhibit women’s representation, depending on the beliefs and behavior of party leaders. This project uses substantial original data, including a survey of over 5,000 county party chairpersons nationwide I designed and fielded in 2008, a collection of political and demographic data on over 16,000 county candidates, and in-depth interviews with many local, county, and state party officials. With these data, I develop and provide support for a theory that conditions the effects of party structures and institutional strength on the behavior and beliefs of party actors. I find that stronger party organizations are more likely to run female candidates, but that this effect is shaped by the gender of party leaders and by party leader beliefs about women candidates. My results provide an explanation for conflicting theories of the effects of party strength, for women’s longstanding political underrepresentation, and for women’s greater representation among Democratic candidates and officeholders than among Republican ones. They lay a foundation for future work examining the effects of party organizations on the representation of other groups – particularly those shaped by race, ethnicity, or economic class – and highlight the critical importance of considering institutional structures and political behavior simultaneously in order to understand political outcomes.

Other Work in Progress


“Gender Differences in Policy Preferences and Priorities”

In this paper I examine men’s and women’s issue preferences and priorities since 2000. To determine if and how men’s and women’s preferences differ, I evaluate responses to ANES and NAES questions on a variety of topics including military and foreign policy, crime and punishment, racial issues, social services and welfare, traditional values, women’s rights, immigration, and homosexuality. To establish whether men and women differ in the issues they prioritize most highly, I analyze responses to questions about the most important problems facing our country and reasons for liking or disliking political parties. I find that men’s and women’s opinions continue to differ across a wide variety of issues, despite the many ways in which men’s and women’s experiences have become more similar over the past several decades. Furthermore, I find significant gender differences in prioritization – differences in the issues respondents rank as most important and in the issues they use most often to evaluate political parties and candidates — on both issues about which men and women have similar preferences and issues about which they differ. Thus my results demonstrate that descriptive representation is important for substantive as well as psychological reasons. My findings also highlight the importance of determining how well men’s and women’s preferences are being substantively represented by elected officials of both sexes. Furthermore, my results suggest additional issues on which the gender gap in vote choice and partisanship might be based. Consequently, these findings have important implications for scholars studying public opinion, women’s descriptive and substantive representation in public office, and the gender gap in partisan identification and voting behavior.


“Candidate Recruitment and Party Networks: How the Beliefs and Behavior of Local Party Leaders Affect Women’s Representation.”

In this paper I use original survey and interview data to demonstrate first that lower level parties are crucially involved in candidate emergence at the county and sub-county level. After establishing the importance of candidate recruitment at the local level generally, I outline a theory explaining why party recruitment activities should particularly influence the decision to run among women potential candidates. Finally, I test several hypotheses regarding how the specific choices party leaders make about what networks to use to find candidates influence whether women are recruited. I find that the composition of recruitment networks affect party leaders’ likelihood of recruiting female candidates – though the effects are stronger for male party chairs than female chairs. Because of variation in recruitment networks used and beliefs about women candidates held by party leaders, candidate recruitment can enhance or inhibit women’s representation. I further find that differences between Democratic and Republican parties in recruitment networks may explain much of women’s differential representation as candidates for these two parties.




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