Christina Wolbrecht is professor of political science and director of the Rooney Center for the Study of American Democracy at the University of Notre Dame. Her areas of expertise include American politics, women and gender, political parties, and American political development. Much of Wolbrecht's current work focuses on women voters since suffrage. She is the author, with J. Kevin Corder, of Counting Women's Ballots: Female Voters from Suffrage Through the New Deal (Cambridge, 2016), which uses new data and innovative methods to understand whether, how, and with what consequences women cast their ballots in the first five presidential elections after suffrage. Wolbrecht and Corder's next book, A Century of Votes for Women: American Elections Since Suffrage, describes and explains how women have voted since the Nineteenth Amendment was ratified in 1920. That book, forthcoming from Cambridge at the end of 2019, is intended for scholars, journalists, and students. Wolbrecht and David E. Campbell have an on-going and published research agenda on adolescent girls, women as political role models, and the post-2016 Resistance. Wolbrecht also is the author of The Politics of Women's Rights: Explaining Party Change (Princeton 2000) on the major American parties' evolving positions on women's rights issues in the postwar period, as well as other articles, book chapters, and edited volumes on women and representation, party position-taking, and democratic inclusion. Wolbrecht and Susan Franceschet are the co-editors of the journal Politics & Gender (2019-2022).
Political Parties and Interest Groups
Gender and Politics
American Political Parties
Women And Politics
Gender And Politics
Women Role Models
We examine whether the unprecedented 2016 presidential election led to political disillusionment among young people, whether that disillusionment led to a withdrawal from politics or an intention to be more politically active, and if those effects vary by gender and partisan identity. Using a nationally-representative panel study of adolescents and their parents, we find that Democratic girls became more pessimistic about the responsiveness of the American political system in the wake of 2016. Democratic girls in general became substantially more interested in engaging in political protest after 2016, especially Democratic girls who became disillusioned with American politics. In addition, having a parent who became more likely to engage in protest after 2016 also encouraged more interest in protest among adolescents. We view these outcomes as evidence of the gendered character of the 2016 election (including the first woman nominee and the sexist language and behavior of her opponent) and the impact of activists in girls’ communities and families who served as role models for responding to the current political moment.
Do female politicians serve as political role models? This paper is the first to employ panel data to examine whether the presence of non-presidential female candidates leads to an increased propensity for political engagement – specifically, discussion – among women. We hypothesize that younger people who are still learning and establishing political engagement habits will become more politically engaged when exposed to female role models. We do not find evidence of a role model effect overall or among co-partisans. We do find that younger women become significantly more likely to discuss politics when they experience a viable and new female candidate. Importantly, we only find this effect when the female candidate is not a current office holder, suggesting the novelty of female candidates may be key. We do not find a similar effect among older women.
In recent years, the American political parties have shifted their positions on elementary and secondary education policy, both relative to each other and to their own past positions. Established explanations for party issue position-taking privilege the influence of groups in the parties’ coalitions; yet in this case, both parties have taken positions opposed by important components of their bases. We develop a general framework for understanding party issue position adoption and change that highlights the role of issue definition—the considerations, values, and goals associated with a policy debate at any one time. This framework helps us to explain the participation and preferences of groups regarding an issue; the perceived ideological fit and strategic benefits of issue positions for parties; and how parties negotiate and manage issue conflict within their coalition. We apply that framework to the case of education policy, showing how education issue definition has changed over time—from a focus on resources and equality to an emphasis on values and excellence—and how those changes have been consequential for each party’s changing, and converging, positions on education policy. We conclude by discussing the potential application of our model of party issue positioning to other issues in American politics.
One argument advanced in favor of descriptive representation is that female politicians serve as role models, inspiring other women to political activity. While previous research finds female role models affect women's psychological engagement, few studies report an impact on women's active participation, and none have done so in cross-national research. Our work also is the first to consider whether the impact of female role models is, as the term implies, greater among the young. Using three cross-national datasets, we find that where there are more female members of parliament (MPs), adolescent girls are more likely to discuss politics with friends and to intend to participate in politics as adults, and adult women are more likely to discuss and participate in politics. The presence of female MPs registers the same effect on political discussion regardless of age, but the impact on women's political activity is far greater among the young than the old.
Does the presence of female political role models inspire interest in political activism among young women? We find that over time, the more that women politicians are made visible by national news coverage, the more likely adolescent girls are to indicate an intention to be politically active. Similarly, in cross-sectional analysis, we find that where female candidates are visible due to viable campaigns for high-profile offices girls report increased anticipated political involvement. Contrary to conventional wisdom, this effect does not appear to be mediated through beliefs about the appropriateness of politics for women, nor through perceptions of government responsiveness. Instead, an increased propensity for political discussion, particularly within families, appears to explain the role model effect.
Corder and Wolbrecht use new data and novel methods to provide insight into whether, how, and with what consequences women cast their ballots in the first five presidential elections following suffrage.
The Politics of Women's Rights examines and explains the major American parties’ evolving positions on women’s rights issues in the postwar period.