Mirya Holman, Ph.D.
I am an Associate Professor of Political Science at Tulane University. My research interests focus on women and politics, local politics, research methods, and environmental politics. My book, Women in Politics in the American City (Temple University Press) examines the effect of the female mayors and city council members on urban politics. I do a lot of research on a lot of topics! My current research interests include state legislative agenda setting on contentious issues (guns, climate change, and abortion!), how politics and religion coexist, and lots on local politics, including how to gather data on local politics more efficiently, the wild world of local appointed boards and commissions, and a long-running project on how cities and urban residents react to urban fiscal crises.
Gender and Politics
Religion & Politics
Race, Ethnicity and Politics
Text as Data
Countries of Interest
Collaboration plays a key role in crafting good public policy. We use a novel data set of over 140,000 pieces of legislation considered in US state legislatures in 2015 to examine the factors associated with women's collaboration with each other. We articulate a theory that women's collaboration arises from opportunity structures, dictated by an interaction of individual and institutional characteristics. Examining the effect of a combination of characteristics, we find support for an interactive view of institutions, where women's caucuses accelerate collaboration in Democratic‐controlled bodies and as the share of women increases. Collaboration between women also continues in the face of increased polarization in the presence of a caucus, but not absent one. Our findings speak to the long‐term consequences of electing women to political office, the importance of institutions and organizations in shaping legislative behavior, and the institutionalization of gender in politics.
Women are underrepresented in most elected and appointed positions in local government in the United States. This essay details what we know about women’s representation in cities and counties, with a discussion of the factors associated with women’s higher or lower levels of representation. The effects of women’s lack of parity are then discussed including policy attitudes, the policy process, and policy outcomes. In sum, this essay organizes knowledge on women in local government, identifies gaps in what we know, and promotes future investigations to expand our knowledge of gender politics, local politics and governance, and public policy.
Research on negative campaigning has largely overlooked the role of stereotypes. In this study, we argue that the gender and partisan stereotypes associated with traits and policy issues interact with a candidate’s gender and partisanship to shape the effectiveness of campaign attacks. We draw on expectancy-violation theory to argue that candidates may be evaluated more harshly when attacks suggest the candidate has violated stereotypic assumptions about their group. Thus, attacks on a candidate’s “home turf,” or those traits or issues traditionally associated with their party or gender, may be more effective in reducing support for the attacked candidate. We use two survey experiments to examine the effects of stereotype-based attacks—a Trait Attack Study and an Issue Attack Study. The results suggest that female candidates are particularly vulnerable to trait based attacks that challenge stereotypically feminine strengths. Both male and female candidates proved vulnerable to attacks on policy issues stereotypically associated with their party and gender, but the negative effects of all forms of stereotype-based attacks were especially large for democratic women. Our results offer new insights into the use of stereotypes in negative campaigning and their consequences for the electoral fortunes of political candidates.
The Catholic Church often plays a policy and mobilization role in American politics. We assess the degree to which the Catholic Church hierarchy — including national and state conferences of bishops — can provide uniform information to parishioners about political participation. Using a textual analysis of information distributed to parishioners in Florida in the 2012 election, we evaluate how much political information is conveyed to parishioners, the sources of this information, and the factors associated with higher or lower levels of information. While we find that most parishes provided information related to the election, there is wide diversity in the types and sources of information. And, while the Catholic hierarchy attempted to provide messaging about the importance of political participation, not all parishes complied with these efforts. Our findings are consistent with the ideas that the local community and hierarchical structure combine to shape the behavior of the parishes.
Research on evaluations of leaders has frequently found that female leaders receive lower ratings in times of national security crisis. However, less is known about countervailing factors. We contend that partisanship and leadership experience in relevant domains are two factors that can counteract the negative effects of terrorist threat on evaluations of female political leaders. To test this expectation, we implemented a national study in 2012 containing terrorist threat and non-threat conditions, and then asked participants to evaluate political leaders. The results show that Republican leaders, including women, are unaffected by terrorist threat; in contrast, Democratic leaders are punished during times of terrorist threat, but this negative effect is smaller for then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton compared to Nancy Pelosi, who lacks similar experience. In short, Republican partisanship is a strong countervailing factor, while leadership experience in national security more modestly countervails.
Immigration enforcement and policy making has increasingly devolved to the local level in the United States. American sheriffs present a unique opportunity to evaluate decisions made about immigration policies in the local context. In dealing with immigration concerns in their counties, sheriffs act both within the confines of federal and state mandates and as local policymakers. However, little research comprehensively assesses the role sheriffs play in immigration policy making. Using data from an original, national survey of more than five hundred elected sheriffs in the United States, we provide a broad account of sheriffs’ roles in immigration enforcement and policy making. Our research demonstrates that sheriffs’ ideology and personal characteristics shape their personal attitudes about immigrants. In turn, these attitudes play a key role in influencing local enforcement decisions. Sheriffs’ immigration attitudes relate strongest to checks of the immigration status of witnesses and victims and those stopped for traffic violations or arrested for non-violent crimes. Our results demonstrate the important role of the sheriff in understanding local variation in immigration policy and the connection between the personal preferences of representatives and policy making that can emerge across policy environments and levels of government.
Religious identity serves as a central cleavage in American politics. However, little attention has been granted to how gendered views of authority conveyed in religious doctrine shape political identities and attitudes. Using a nation-wide sample of adult Americans, we demonstrate that gendered notions of divine and human authority exert considerable influence on political thinking. In particular, belief in a masculine God and preferences for traditional gender roles strongly relate to political conservatism. Adherence to gendered notions of authority influences political identity and policy preferences, even when controlling for more conventional indicators of religiosity. Accounting for gendered beliefs about authority also partially explains well-documented gender gaps in American politics, providing insight into women's apparently contradictory tendencies toward both political liberalism and religiosity. The relationships uncovered here, coupled with the continued salience of both gender and religion in contemporary political campaigns, underscore the importance of attending to the gendered dimensions of authority.
Political institutions in the U.S. continue to be dominated by men. Media and scholarly accounts often focus on how demand factors, such as political parties and elite networks, and supply factors, such as women’s self-confidence and political interest, combine to depress women’s representation. Yet, we know little about whether these narratives matter for women’s political ambition or how they might influence women of color. We demonstrate that blaming women’s underrepresentation on supply vs. demand causes clear changes in women’s political ambition. Attributing women’s lack of parity to demand factors allows white and Asian women to “discount” the possibility that failure rests on their own abilities, thus increasing women’s political ambition. Alternatively, framing women’s underrepresentation as due to supply factors depresses white and Asian women’s political ambition possibly because of stereotype threat. Black women respond in an opposite manner, with depressed political ambition in demand scenarios, while Latinas are unaffected by these narratives. Our findings contribute to understanding how frames intersect with racial and ethnic identity to influence political ambition.
Organized religion affords the faithful a variety of civic skills that encourage political participation. Women are more religious than are men by most measures, but religious women do not participate in politics at elevated rates. This discrepancy suggests a puzzle: religion may have a different effect on the political mobilization of men and women. In the present paper, we explore the effect of biblical literalism—a widespread belief that the Bible is the actual word of God, to be taken literally—on political participation. Using the 2012 American National Election Study, we find support for our two hypotheses: (a) biblical literalism is associated with lower levels of gender consciousness, as measured by perceptions of discrimination and strength of ties to women as a group, and (b) reductions in these two factors account for lower political participation among women. Our findings provide new insights into the ways religious and gender identities intersect to influence political mobilization among women, with interesting implications for an American political climate where gender and religion both represent fundamental identities that shape political behavior.
How does the threat of terrorism affect evaluations of female (vs. male) political leaders, and do these effects vary by the politician’s partisanship? Using two national surveys, we document a propensity for the U.S. public to prefer male Republican leadership the most in times of security threat, and female Democratic leadership the least. We theorize a causal process by which terrorist threat influences the effect of stereotypes on candidate evaluations conditional on politician partisanship. We test this framework with an original experiment:a nationally representative sample was presented with a mock election that varied the threat context and the gender and partisanship of the candidates. We find that masculine stereotypes have a negative influence on both male and female Democratic candidates in good times (thus reaffirming the primacy of party stereotypes), but only on the female Democratic candidate when terror threat is primed. Republican candidates—both male and female—are unaffected by masculine stereotypes, regardless of the threat environment.
Campaigns invoke identity appeals to specific groups of voters, including women. To understand whether these campaign appeals matter in affecting voters’ choices, we must better understand how women respond to these appeals, the causal mechanism driving responses, and whether male and female candidates can use these ads with equal effectiveness. Using a nationally representative sample of American voters and an experimental design, we test an identity-based appeal aimed at women. We find that, although candidates of either gender can use these ads to affect women’s votes, only female candidates are able to prime female voters’ gender identity. The use of these appeals by male candidates persuades female voters of their positive traits. Male voters are generally unaffected by the appeals. Given the integration of women and men in the general population, our results demonstrate the utility of targeted appeals in encouraging support from a specific group and avoiding backlash from others.
We provide a novel approach to understanding the political ambition gap between men and women by examining perceptions of the role of politician. Across three studies, we find that political careers are viewed as fulfilling power-related goals, such as self-promotion and competition. We connect these goals to a tolerance for interpersonal conflict and both of these factors to political ambition. Women's lack of interest in conflict and power-related activities mediates the relationship between gender and political ambition. In an experiment, we show that framing a political career as fulfilling communal goals—and not power-related goals—reduces the ambition gap.
Politicians and leaders use metaphors and frames in political communication to provide citizens with meaning, persuade, and promote emotional reactions. At the same time, a large body of scholarship documents the propensity for female leaders to “speak in a different voice” when in political office. Research to date on policy metaphors, however, rarely compares male and female leaders’ use of metaphors or evaluates the use of these metaphors in local politics. Using State of the City addresses from 16 cities to evaluate the connection between policy agendas, metaphors, and mayoral gender, I find that male and female leaders emphasize similar issues in their speeches, but use different frames to present these issues, with female leaders using more nurturing framing than do male leaders. In addition, while both male and female mayors emphasize economic development as the central issue in their speeches, female mayors use more inclusive framing in these discussions.
How do female municipal leaders influence policymaking in American cities? Can gender determine who gets a say in local politics or what programs cities fund? These are some of the questions raised and answered in Mirya Holman's provocative Women in Politics in the American City. This book provides the first comprehensive evaluation of the influence of gender on the behavior of mayors and city council members in the United States. Holman considers the effects of gender in local, urban politics and analyzes how a leader's gender does-and does not-influence policy preferences, processes, behavior, and outcomes.
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