Danielle M. Thomsen’s dissertation focuses on two seemingly unrelated questions and their intersection. First, she examines patterns of candidate emergence to the US Congress and its relationship to party polarization. Second, she examines how candidate emergence relates to the increasing number of Democratic women in Congress and the lack of growth in the number of Republican women in Congress. There are more than three times as many Democratic than Republican women in the contemporary Congress, but throughout the 1980s women’s representation across the parties was largely the same! Importantly Thomsen develops a theory of “party fit” and shows that more liberal Republican and more conservative Democratic state legislators are less likely to run for Congress, contributing to a more ideological and polarized Congress. Because women Republican legislators tend to be more liberal than male Republican legislators, the result is that fewer Republican women run, which has a direct and negative effect on the representation of Republican women in the US House.
Thomsen’s methodology is diverse, using both quantitative and qualitative data. To address her first question she uses individual data on state legislator’s perceptions of winning and estimates of the ideology of state legislators to examine candidate emergence. She finds that ideology matters more to political ambition than gender, which influences who runs and the party-gender make-up of the Congress. She also examines member retention patterns and finds that more liberal Republicans and more conservative Democrats are more likely to retire, which also has implications for the party‐gender divide.
The committee was impressed with the variety of literature used to weave together a fascinating story about ideology, political parties, candidate emergence and gender, and politics. Most importantly, the committee was impressed with the number of implications that derived from her research, its focus on questions of descriptive and substantive representation at both the micro and macro level, and the value of thinking about the variation among women both theoretically and empirically. These contributions are far-reaching, advancing our understanding of the American political landscape from multiple perspectives while connecting individual decisions to macro political outcomes.
Lonna Atkeson, University of New Mexico
Scott McClurg, Southern Illinois University, Carbondale
Barbara Norrander, University of Arizona
Recipient: Danielle Thomsen
Dissertation: “Party Fit in the US Congress: The Intersection of Ideology, Political Parties and Gender,” Cornell University