Heather Ondercin, Ph.D.


Appalachian State University

Country: United States (North Carolina)

About Me:

I am an Assistant Professor of Political Science in the Department of Government and Justice Studies at Appalachian State Univesity.  I hold a joint Ph.D in Political Science and Women's and Gender Studies from The Pennsylvania State University.   

Research Interests

Public Opinion

Gender and Politics



Women Candidates

Countries of Interest

United States

My Research:

My research falls at the intersection of political behavior, political psychology, and gender and politics.   My primary research agenda examines how social identities, in particular, gender, shape partisan attachments. Drawing on social identity theory from social psychology, I examine how party attachments among groups in the electorate have evolved.  I show that the politicization of gender as a social identity and the differentiation of the political parties concerning gender representation explains the formation of the gender gap in partisanship. As part of this project, I examine how multiple social identities, including race, ethnicity, and class, intersect with gender to shape partisan attachments. My second research agenda focuses on how gender shapes the emergence and success of political candidates across different geographical locations and at different stages in the electoral process. My findings demonstrate that women are more likely to run in locations where they are likely to win. However, women are not systematically rewarded for this behavior; female candidates have to be “better” than male candidates to achieve the same electoral outcome. These findings reveal female candidates “win when they run” because they act strategically and enter those electoral contests where they are most likely to win.  


Journal Articles:

(2018) Is it a Chasm? Is it a Canyon? No, it is the Gender Gap, The Forum

Many speculated that we would observe a gender gap in vote choice of historic proportions in the 2018 midterm elections. However, the 2018 gender gap was similar to gender gaps in previous elections. I argue that the gender gap is not about a specific candidate or election but is driven by gender differences in partisan attachments. Variation in the gender gap in Senate and gubernatorial elections highlight that the gender gap does not advantage a particular candidate or party and that women candidates do not increase the size of the gender gap. Race and class intersect with gender to shape the partisan attachments and vote choice of men and women. Finally, while the candidates and events surrounding the 2018 election likely did not impact the gender gap in 2018, I discuss how the 2018 election will shape the gender gap in future elections.

(2017) Who’s Responsible for the Gender Gap: The Dynamics of Men’s and Women’s Macropartisanship, 1950-2012., Political Research Quarterly

I argue the gender gap is a function of men and women changing their partisanship as they seek the best representation of their gendered social identity from the political parties. Specifically, shifts in the parties due to party realignments and shifts in the composition of parties’ congressional delegations have provided individuals with a clearer signal on which to base their partisan attachments. Men and women have responded differently to these signals and developed different political identities over the past seventy years, resulting in the gender gap in partisanship. To test this theory, I have constructed an innovative macro-level dataset of men’s and women’s partisan attachments on a quarterly basis between 1950 and 2012. I use a Seemingly Unrelated Regression framework to estimate patterns of men’s and women’s Democratic macropartisanship and whether particular factors contribute to the gender gap by having different effects on men’s and women’s partisanship. The results are consistent with my theoretical expectations, highlighting how symbolic images shape partisan attachments, and demonstrate the gender gap is a function of changes in both men’s and women’s macropartisanship.

(2017) Conditional Motivated Reasoning: How Economic Performance Moderates Partisan Motivations in Economic Perceptions, Political Research Quarterly

Using motivated reasoning, voters rely on partisanship as a heuristic for evaluating the economy in belief-preserving ways. Yet recent findings show that these motivations may be restricted by a range of contextual factors. We argue that partisan motivations in economic perceptions are moderated by the local economic context. As conditions worsen, a negative information environment leads in-partisans to political ambivalence that reduces confidence in party cues when evaluating the economy. As conditions improve, the motivation for in-partisans to rely on party cues is restored. As positive information has been shown to be less influential for opinion formation than negative information, and out-group members tend to be most prone to motivated reasoning, the economic context should moderate the political motivations of out-partisans to a lesser extent than in-partisans. A multilevel analysis of the 1980 to 2012 American National Election Studies supplemented with state-level data on unemployment and per capita disposable income supports this argument. The effects of in-party attachments on economic perceptions are diminished as economic conditions deteriorate and grow stronger as conditions improve. Moreover, the conditional effects of economic performance on subjective perceptions are stronger for in-partisans than for out-partisans.

(2016) Explaining Movement and Countermovement Events in the Contemporary U.S. Women's Movement, Social Forces

We examine the causes of movement and countermovement mobilization, focusing specifically on the effect that the national movements have on each other by responding directly to mobilization and indirectly through their policy successes. We discuss the mechanisms by which national movements respond to each other, and we examine the influence of political parties and social, political, and economic changes for women. We analyze these relationships using a Poisson Autoregressive (PAR(ρ)) estimator, which is uniquely designed to model both the time dependence and the count distributions, on quarterly time series of feminist, anti-feminist, pro-choice, and anti-abortion events. Results show that movements and countermovements respond to each other and that anti-feminist movements mobilize in response to national policy change and societal change. The results suggest that many quantitative analyses of women's movements may be misspecified and that feminist mobilization does not always abate during conservative backlash.

Book Chapters:

(2018) The Evolution of Women’s (and Men’s) Partisan Attachments., Oxford University Press

I examine how women’s and men’s attachments with the two major political parties in the United States have evolved since the passage of the 19th Amendment. I contend that over time gender has become increasingly important in influencing both men’s and women’s partisan attachments. Along with identifying the similarities and differences between men and women in partisan attachments, this essay examines the unity and disunity of women’s partisan attachments. I draw on historical analyses to understand men’s and women’s partisanship attachments immediately after the passage of the 19th Amendment when systematic quantitative data are unavailable. I then explore the partisan attachments of men and women between 1950-2012 using an extensive collection of Gallup Surveys from this time period. Differences based on generation, education, race, and region are also examined.