Hi and welcome!
I am a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions at Vanderbilt University. I was previously a Postdoctoral Research Associate in the Center for Study of Democratic Politics at Princeton University. I received my Ph.D. in Political Science from the University of Michigan in May 2020, specializing in American politics and political methodology.
Substantively, I am interested in studying the complexities of gender and racial identities and attitudes as they relate to public opinion and political behavior in the United States. In particular, my research sheds light on underappreciated heterogeneity in both women’s and men’s candidate evaluations, voting preferences, and policy attitudes by analyzing gender at the subgroup level.
Methodologically, my interests include developing original survey and experimental designs. I am also interested in studying how and to what extent pre-registration of designs contributes to transparency, reproducibility, and trustworthiness of political science research.
I earned a B.A. in International and Diplomatic Science with highest honors in 2005 from the University of Bologna in Italy. I was then a visiting graduate student at Yale University in 2008, and in 2009 I was awarded an M.A. in International Studies from the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva, Switzerland. In 2013, I earned an M.A. in Political Science from The Ohio State University.
The Feminist Paradox: How Labels Keep Women Candidates from Equal Representation
Committee: Nicholas A. Valentino (Chair), Nancy Burns, Elizabeth R. Cole (Psychology), and Donald R. Kinder.
Although a desire for descriptive representation is common among historically underrepresented groups and despite women’s enduring underrepresentation in U.S. government, female voters demonstrate much weaker and less consistent ingroup loyalty at the voting booth compared to other underrepresented groups, such as racial and ethnic minorities. Why don’t women voters generally expect women candidates to provide better substantive representation for their gender group interests? I propose that both women and men in the U.S. electorate are divided into two gender subgroup identities: feminists and non-feminists. Feminists are a homogeneous group and share a gender ideology that focuses on fostering gender equality. In contrast, non-feminists are a very diverse group that includes three distinct gender belief systems: 1) “non-labelers,” who endorse feminist (i.e., egalitarian) gender ideology but refuse the feminist label due to its perceived negative connotations; 2) “gender individualists,” who believe in individualistic rather than collective solutions to gender inequality; and 3) “gender inegalitarians,” who deny the existence of gender inequality and/or oppose any effort to address it. I rely on theoretical insights from political science, psychology, sociology, and women’s and gender studies and deploy both survey and experimental tests using four studies – two nationally representative surveys and two experiments – including both quantitative and qualitative data.
My results demonstrate that support for gender equality, which feminists and non-labelers share, is much more widespread than adoption of the feminist label. Self-labeling or being labeled a feminist vs. a non-feminist has important political implications. Among both men and women, feminist identity is largely associated with prioritizing the election of more women to political office, while non-feminist identity strongly undermines support for female candidates, all else equal. In the context of the 2016 U.S. presidential election, a mayoral election, and a legislative primary, I further show that feminist voters in both the Democratic and the Republican Party significantly favor ingroup – feminist – candidates over outgroup – non-feminist – candidates. In contrast, despite their group ideological heterogeneity, non-feminists of both parties consistently favor non-feminist over feminist candidates.
In sum, labels related to gender subgroups divide the U.S. public much more than the actual idea of gender equality, particularly the female electorate. The divides among feminists, non-labelers, gender individualists, and gender inegalitarians are distinct from and cut across those based on gender group membership, gender identification, political ideology, and partisanship. They crucially influence how the public perceive and evaluate candidates and policies, interpret the political spectrum, and decide to cast their ballot. Paradoxically, explicit association with the feminist label on the campaign trail puts feminist candidates at a severe electoral disadvantage and is likely to be riskier and costlier than touting a gender egalitarian policy agenda. The label appeals to one rather small gender subgroup – feminists – but alienates a larger and more diverse one – non-feminist voters. Thus, it is the aversive reaction to the label, rather than a rejection of the substance of their campaign platforms and policy agendas, that drives many women away from candidates of their own gender group.
Affective Group Mobilization in the Era of Trump (with Nicholas A. Valentino). Under contract with Cambridge University Press.
"Mobilizing Sexism: The Interaction of Emotion and Gender Attitudes in the 2016 Presidential Election" (with Nicholas A. Valentino and Carly Wayne). 2018. Public Opinion Quarterly 82(S1), 213-235.
The outcome of the 2016 US presidential election cycle generated a great deal of attention about the political psychology of the average American voter. A familiar narrative was that authoritarianism, perhaps triggered by fears of cultural and economic change, was the primary driver of support for Donald Trump. This article argues that sexism has been underestimated as a political force, especially given the angry emotional climate. The article first explores the electoral role of sexism early in the campaign, finding that sexism powerfully predicted vote choice even after controlling for authoritarianism, partisanship, and other predispositions. Second, the article analyzes American National Election Studies time-series data to examine the impact of sexism in recent presidential elections, demonstrating that 2016 was the only year in which it played a large and significant role. Finally, a survey experiment tests the theorized causal mechanism underlying sexism’s influence: the catalyzing power of anger versus fear. Fear sharply reduced sexism’s impact on support for Trump relative to those who experienced anger. Further, anger powerfully mobilized sexists, a group that would normally be likely to stay home. These results illuminate the role that emotional undercurrents play in catalyzing group-based predispositions into politics.
"The Electoral Costs and Benefits of Feminism in Contemporary American Politics" (with Nicholas A. Valentino and Carly Wayne). 2021. Political Behavior.
Sexism and feminism are often seen as opposing belief systems on a single dimension in American politics. Gender scholars, however, have noticed that these forces are not equal and opposite. The 2016 election represents a critical case for examining how gender-related attitudes and identities push and pull voters. Hillary Clinton was the first female presidential nominee of a major party and a self-proclaimed feminist facing an opponent considered by many to be hostile to women. As such, many observers predicted a substantial increase in the gender gap. However, the gap did not widen much compared to previous races, and nearly half of women chose Trump. Why? We argue that sexism – as commonly measured – mixes attitudes about women in general with those about feminists in particular. When feminism becomes salient, as in 2016, attitudes about this subgroup become more relevant to the vote. Relying on three studies – a 2016 survey on SSI, the 2018 CCES, and the 2016 ANES, we assess the role of anti-feminist attitudes and feminist identity across gender, race, and party. We find that sexism directed against feminists powerfully dampened support for Clinton across genders. However, feminist identity was much less common in the electorate, and had little effect on men’s votes. Thus, although countervailing, these two forces are not equivalent. In 2016, the benefit of appealing to feminists was overwhelmed by the cost of activating voters who intensely dislike the group. These results reveal a consequential imbalance in the power of sexism and feminism in U.S. politics.
American Rage: How Anger Shapes Our Politics. By Steven W. Webster. (Cambridge University Press 2020). Forthcoming at Political Science Quarterly.
"What encourages Black Americans to get vaccinated? Hearing that other Black Americans want the vaccine" (with Wei-Ting Yen). 2021. The Washington Post.
"How sexism drives support for Donald Trump" (with Nicholas A. Valentino and Carly Wayne). 2016. The Washington Post.
"Feminists vs. Everyone Else: How Gender Subgroup Labels Divide the U.S. Electorate and Impact Representation." Under review.
"The Impact of Racial Descriptive Norms on Vaccination against COVID-19" (with Wei-Ting Yen). Under review.
At the graduate level:
Game Theory I (at ICPSR), Graduate Student Instructor for Scott H. Ainsworth (Summer 2018)
Statistical Methods II, Graduate Student Instructor for Rocío Titiunik (Winter 2016)
At the undergraduate level:
Mentor for the Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program (2017-2019)
Capstone Seminar for Senior in Statistics, Graduate Student Instructor for Ben B. Hansen (Winter 2017)
Modeling Political Processes, Graduate Student Instructor for Scott E. Page (Fall 2016)