Melody Crowder-Meyer, Ph.D.

Davidson College

Phone: 704-894-2285

City: Davidson, North Carolina

Country: United States

About Me:

I teach and conduct research about American government and politics, with particular interests in the politics of identity, political parties, local and urban politics, survey research, and political behavior. My research investigates why American elected officials often do not share the traits of those they represent. In one line of research, I examine how the beliefs and behavior of political elites (like party leaders and campaign donors) as well as potential and declared candidates affect who runs for and wins public office generally and women's political underrepresentation specifically. In another set of research projects, I investigate how voters respond to candidates with diverse identities (by race, ethnicity, and gender) in a variety of electoral contexts.

Research Interests

Gender and Politics

State and Local Politics

Political Parties and Interest Groups

Countries of Interest

United States

My Research:

My research investigates why American elected officials often do not share the traits of those they represent. In one line of research, I examine how the beliefs and behavior of political elites (like party leaders and campaign donors) as well as potential and declared candidates affect who runs for and wins public office generally and women's political underrepresentation specifically. In another set of research projects, I investigate how voters respond to candidates with diverse identities (by race, ethnicity, and gender) in a variety of electoral contexts.


Journal Articles:

(2019) Voting Can Be Hard, Information Helps, Urban Affairs Review

See a post on the Urban Affairs Forum outlining this research here: Abstract: Many U.S. elections provide voters with precious little information about candidates on the ballot. In local contests, party labels are often absent. In primary elections, party labels are not useful. Indeed, much of the time, voters have only the name of the candidate to go by. In these contexts, how do voters make decisions? Using several experiments, we find that voters use candidates’ race, ethnicity, and gender as cues for whom to support—penalizing candidates of color and benefiting women. But we also demonstrate that providing even a small amount of information to voters—such as candidate occupation—virtually erases the effects of candidate demographics on voter behavior, even among voters with high levels of racial and gender prejudice.

(2018) Baker, Bus Driver, Babysitter, Candidate? Revealing the Gendered Development of Political Ambition Among Ordinary Americans, Political Behavior

Americans without prestigious educational or professional backgrounds hold offices throughout the American government. Yet we know little about how these ordinary Americans developed political ambition or whether gender differences in ambition are present among this population. This paper uses a national sample of 1240 Americans to fill these gaps, identifying how political ambition develops differently for ordinary men and women, and drawing on this knowledge to help explain the surge in female candidates following the 2016 election. In contrast with elite samples, I show that the factors determining men’s political ambition are almost entirely distinct from those shaping women’s ambition among the mass public. I theorize that ordinary women’s ambition is particularly affected by the gendered expectations of those around them and the challenges they face balancing caregiving, work, and political engagement without the experience and resources possessed by elite women. I find support for this theory; ordinary women’s ambition is particularly dependent on the support of personal and political sources who can help them manage the demands of candidacy. In contrast, ordinary men’s ambition depends far less on encouragement from others, and instead increases with levels of education, political participation, and marriage. These results, and the distribution of the factors shaping ambition among Americans, help explain women’s low descriptive representation among American candidates and elected officials. They also provide a potential explanation for the unusual increase in women’s candidacies in 2017 and 2018.

(2018) A Different Kind of Disadvantage: Candidate Race, Cognitive Complexity, and Voter Choice, Political Behavior

Voters use heuristics to help them make decisions when they lack information about political choices. Candidate appearance operates as a powerful low-information cue. However, widely held stereotypes mean that reliance on such a heuristic can reduce support for candidates of color. We argue that racial prejudices are more likely to dominate decision making when electoral environments require voters to expend more cognitive resources—such as when they must choose multiple candidates at once. Using two experiments we find that black candidates receive less support from cognitively taxed voters than from voters who have the cognitive space to intentionally limit their prejudices when voting. We also reveal that this pattern is particularly evident among ideologically liberal voters. Respondents who profess politically liberal views support black candidates more often than white candidates when the cognitive task is simple but are less likely to do so when they are cognitively taxed.

(2018) Can’t Buy Them Love: How Party Culture among Donors Contributes to the Party Gap in Women’s Representation, Journal of Politics

A article drawing on this research is available here: Why do Democratic women seek and hold office more frequently than Republican women? We use an original survey of donors to party campaign committees and women’s political action committees to answer this question. We theorize that the intense policy demanders in each party have built party cultures with substantively different orientations toward women’s political involvement. These cultures shape party elites’ behavior and influence responsiveness to a newly defined policy-demander group—women’s representation policy demanders (WRPDs)—whose primary goal is to increase women’s political representation. We reveal that Democratic elites’ political activity and financial contributions are significantly more motivated by WRPD concerns than are Republicans. We also show that WRPDs like EMILY’s List and Susan B. Anthony List are far more integrated into Democratic than Republican party coalitions. Thus, we reveal both the continued existence of distinct party cultures and the consequences of this distinction for women’s representation.

(2015) How the Strategic Context Affects Women’s Emergence and Success in Local Legislative Elections, Politics Groups and Identities

While much scholarly attention has focused on the determinants of women's presence in state and national political offices, relatively little is known about women's descriptive representation at the local level. This study seeks to address the continuing gap in inquiry by examining where women run for and win seats on local legislative bodies throughout Louisiana. We develop hypotheses about the effects of the local strategic context on women's representation and expand on existing research by examining both place and county offices over a period of nearly three decades. Modeling candidate emergence and success endogenously, we find that more women run in localities where the strategic context is favorable to them and confirm that more women win when they have the resources necessary to propel their campaigns. The results suggest that the gender gap in local political representation can be lessened by building more robust networks of female leaders, enhancing partisan competition, and stimulating women in the electorate to support women's candidacies.

(2015) Electoral Institutions, Gender Stereotypes, and Women's Local Representation, Politics Groups and Identities

Despite dramatic progress in winning election to political office, women remain underrepresented at all levels of government in the USA. A great deal of research has focused on institutional barriers to equal representation, particularly at the city level. Yet, the findings have been inconsistent across studies and little attention has been paid to the possible mechanisms that might account for the relationships between institutions and representation. In this paper, we focus on one particularly well-studied institution – the method of election for city councilors. We use a decade of candidate-level data from a single, large state (California) to show that women are significantly advantaged in district (versus at-large) elections and in city clerkships compared with mayoralties and council positions. We suggest that this may be the result of the competitiveness of elections, the status of the offices, and gender stereotypes. We offer support for this argument by analyzing the proportion of women elected to city councils and the probability of victory for different types of offices including city council, mayor, and city clerk.

(2014) A Partisan Gap in the Supply of Female Potential Candidates in the United States., Research & Politics

A Washington Post article summarizing this research is available here: A partisan disparity in women representatives in the US House emerged in the 1980s and has continued to grow in magnitude. We show that this pattern closely mirrors the emergence of a partisan disparity in the proportion of women in the US public with the typical characteristics of high-level officeholders. Our analysis indicates that the proportion of women in the Democratic pool of potential candidates is now two to three times larger than in the Republican pool of potential candidates. Given the current association of party identification with gender and other characteristics, this gap is more likely to increase than decrease over the coming decade, with potential consequences for the descriptive and substantive representation of women in American politics.

(2013) Gendered Recruitment without Trying: How Local Party Recruiters Affect Women's Representation, Politics & Gender

Do strong and active political parties enhance women's representation, or do they contribute to the ongoing inequality in men's and women's candidacy rates? Studies have examined this question by looking at a variety of measures of party strength, focusing particularly on the role parties play in candidate emergence. For qualified individuals in the pool of potential candidates, being encouraged to run for office by a political actor is the most important step in considering a candidacy (Lawless and Fox 2005). Such encouragement is especially important in increasing the typically lower political ambition among women in the candidate pool (Fox and Lawless 2010). Yet the limited research examining the effects of party recruitment on men's and women's candidacies finds negative (Niven 1998; 2006) or no (Sanbonmatsu 2006) effects of recruitment on women's representation. Some studies even find evidence that parties more often run female than male candidates as “sacrificial lambs” in unwinnable races (Carroll 1994; Stambough and O'Regan 2007).