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Research and Resources on Women and US Politics (February 2017): New Developments in Research on Women and US Politics

By Melinda A. Mueller

New Developments in Research on Women and US Politics

Many opportunities for expanded research on women and US politics exist, especially as more women run for and win elected office at all levels of government. We need to better understand how socialization affects women’s political preferences and attitudes. What roles do education, religion, and social media play in shaping women’s political experiences? In order to have a better understanding of both structural and situational barriers that prevent women from running for office, we need more research about women serving at the local level. While the data collection is challenging, a better understanding of why so many women serve at the local level—whether for family caregiving roles or for policy interests—would enhance our understanding of sex and political ambition.

Furthermore, we continue to need more research on intersectionality. Treating women as a single voting block or a single “type” of candidate oversimplifies the experiences of different women. As more women of color, lesbians, and bisexuals run successfully for elected office, we need to better understand the political obstacles they face, and the “difference” they bring to political behavior. Also, we need to better understand how sex interacts with party within the Republican Party—why do so few Republican women serve, and what role might religion and class play?

Research on women and politics naturally tends to focus on elected office, and disregards the role of women within the political system as career public and civil servants. Women public servants are active as street-level bureaucrats at all levels of government, yet we are only beginning to examine how sex affects policy implementation. As more women enter military and diplomatic careers, we will also need to study whether and how sex shapes foreign policy outcomes.

Finally, with Clinton running as the first female major party candidate for president, opportunities for research will continue to grow. This election offers an opportunity to better understand women candidates in terms of campaign messages, strategies, fundraising, and media coverage. If Clinton is elected, we will need to study her role as a chief executive, examining her policy agenda, her relations with the public, and the institutional presidency of appointees and staffing. Even if Clinton is not elected, researchers can explore these factors by examining female governors, who have comparable powers. While some may dismiss this research as focusing too much on single cases, these case studies provide a significant foundation for building a new research agenda on the complex realities women face in the US political system.