Political science scholars have long posited that Black Americans and women face penalties in terms of how they are evaluated by the American public. Some researchers emphasize intersectionality, and have advanced the idea that Black female political figures are doubly disadvantaged due to their dual race-gender identity. There is nevertheless limited evidence of this intersectional claim. This dissertation accordingly examines whether Black female political elites do indeed face a unique combination of disadvantages in the American political arena. I develop hypotheses based on previous studies that have examined the experiences of Black women in the political arena and beyond, particularly work suggesting the importance of intersectionality for understanding the combined effects of race and gender. I also examine both political attitudes and news coverage to identify the ways in which Americans’ beliefs about Black female political figures are (or are not) distinctive relative to White women, White men, and Black men.
Data & Methodology
I implement a nationally diverse survey, experiment, and analyses of ANES data in order to first determine whether Black female political elites encounter more negative attitudes among respondents relative to White women, White men, and Black men. It is first important to establish whether Black female political elites encounter unique levels of bias relative to their counterpart groups before exploring whether news media serves as a driver of this.
I conduct automated content analyses of media data, to assess whether the type of news coverage that Black female political elites receive both in national television networks and across newspapers is distinctively negative relative to that of their counterparts. I analyze factors such as the tone of news coverage, the primary topics or themes that emerge in news stories, as well as the level of negative wording or language that emerge in transcripts.
Finally, I implement a series of experiments in order to examine whether direct exposure to negative news has a disproportionately more damaging effect on public opinion and support for Black female political elites.
Broader Impacts of this Dissertation
This dissertation is critical for a number of reasons. First, there is such limited information surrounding the experiences of Black female political elites that it is perhaps imperative that scholars of race and gender politics continue to advance this work. Studies that examine the disadvantages faced by Black political figures and female political figures often largely leave out considerations of intersectionality. Previous scholars have found that both women and Black Americans face disadvantages in the public opinion and political communication realms. However, Black female political elites, who lie at the intersection of these two groups, are sometimes overlooked in these contexts.Many of the studies in race and politics and gender and politics often tend to center Black men and White women and leave Black women largely unconsidered. Additionally, Black women have continued to rise to prominence in the political arena in recent years. For example, in 2018 we saw the largest pool of Black female candidates run successful congressional campaigns. And more recently, Ketanji Brown Jackson became the first Black woman to be confirmed as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States.
The overall goal of this dissertation is to examine the extent to which Black female political elites face a systemic and ongoing set of challenges in the political realm and news media more specifically. Ultimately, it is the intention that this dissertation will make a significant contribution to the American politics literature while bridging together areas of race and politics, gender and politics, and media and political communication.